How did Della save her one dollar and eighty-seven cents in "The Gift of the Magi"?

In "The Gift of the Magi," Della saves her $1.87 through months of saving on her part, trying to stretch her daily expenditures to their limits. That this paltry sum is all her efforts can amount to expresses the degree of poverty she and her husband experience in their lives.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In O. Henry's famous short story "The Gift of the Magi," Della and Jim are depicted as living in poverty to the point that they have little to no disposable income. This is why O. Henry places so much focus on the sum of $1.87: this paltry sum of money is all that Della can afford to spend on a Christmas gift for her husband.

As O. Henry expresses in the story's opening paragraph, Della arrived at this sum only as a result of an extensive period of saving on her part. Note, also, that of that sum, almost one third of it (sixty cents) is all in pennies. This expresses the extreme degree of desperation and stinginess that characterizes their condition. For months, O. Henry tells us, Della has been stretching her daily expenditures to their very limits, trying to save every penny she can manage, all to arrive at this paltry $1.87 sum, insufficient to buy anything at all.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The opening of O. Henry's story alludes to Della's frugality with these words:

She had put it aside, one cent and then another and then another, in her careful buying of meat and other food.

Della had amassed the sum of one one dollar and eighty-seven cents by bringing scrupulous awareness of her spending on groceries for herself and Jim. Jim was being paid twenty dollars a week, and their furnished room cost them eight dollars a week. From the remaining twelve dollars a week, it is reasonable to assume that Della was given a food allowance. She clearly stretched it as far as she could, putting aside a cent or two for months and selecting what she bought with great care. Ultimately, she had saved less than two dollars by the day before Christmas and had earmarked that money as her fund to purchase a gift for her husband.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Della has somehow managed to scrimp together the tiny sum of one dollar and eighty-seven cents. It's taken her a lot of effort to put together such a small amount, but even so, it's still not enough to buy her husband, Jim, a Christmas present.

As we're told in the first paragraph, Della saved up the money through "bulldozing" the grover, the vegetable man, and the butcher. This means that when she goes out shopping she always drives a hard bargain, haggling whenever possible. By doing this, she's able to save a penny here and a penny there, but nothing really substantial.

Saving pennies like this is a pretty humiliating experience for Della. She's so embarrassed at having to haggle that her cheeks burn with shame as the various shopkeepers she encounters silently impute parsimony, or stinginess, to her. They don't have to come right out and tell her she's being stingy; their withering looks say it all.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial