How does the outer poverty of the scene contrast with the inner richness of Jim and Della in "The Gift of the Magi"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Although they have suffered financial setbacks, Della and Jim are rich in love and tenderness for one another. Thus, their wealth of the heart and the spirit contrasts sharply with their material impoverishment.

In his short story, "The Gift of the Magi," author O. Henry, known for ironic reversals to his narratives, also exploits the romantic wish of readers of his day that people are essentially good, unselfish, and possessive of an inherent dignity. Certainly, these attributes are apparent in the characters of Mr. and Mrs. James Dillingham Young. For, they are both willing to relinquish their most valuable possessions in order to bring delight to the one person that they love more than themselves. Indeed, there is a poignancy to their unselfish acts of cutting luxurious hair and parting with a beautiful watch, both possessions of which their owners have always been proud. Furthermore, when they realize that their gifts cannot be used on the present Christmas, they do not repine. Instead, Della positively offers, 

"My hair grows awfully fast. Say 'Merry Christmas' Jim, and let's be happy."

And, when Jim receives a watch chain for the object he no longer owns, he, too, does not complain. 

"Dell,...let's put our Christmas presents away and keep 'em a while. They're too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on."

Clearly, this loving couple translates misfortune into tenderness and love.

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The Gift of the Magi

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