How does point of view (including the narrator and his language) help to explain the irony and the related theme in "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry?
In O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi," the theme of the story is that of selfless giving from the heart, like that of the magi or wise men in the Christmas story. The irony, of course, is that Della sells her hair to buy Jim a watch fob ("fob chain") for his pocket watch, but Jim sells his watch to buy Della beautiful combs for her long, luxurious hair. In this case, each has sacrificed what was most dear to him or her for the other—which the other then cannot use.
The story is told in third person objective:
Narrator is unnamed/unidentified (a detached observer). Does not assume character's perspective and is not a character in the story. The narrator reports on events and lets the reader supply the meaning.
However, it is also noted that this storyteller is somewhat unusual—he is...
...a narrator with personality and presence.
The narrator (while not a character is the story), adopts a personality that connects to the reader:
...the story is told in another narrative voice that directly addresses the reader as ''you." It is almost as if the narrator is an additional character that is heard, but never seen, engaging the reader...
The narrator's style is informal: described by one source as "folksy"— to me he talks like a fairy tale. However, he also adds side comments throughout the story. This was done by Charles Dickens as well, and is called "authorial intrusion," which gives the story an added dimension. The narrator is like a third character, but only in the telling; and he concentrates more on Della's feelings.
Della's character is presented very much like a princess in need of a hero, as she sits down and cries...
Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.
When Della goes to sell her hair, the narrator makes one think of a Disney princess with his description:
With a whirl of skirts and with a brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.
The imagery used supports this feeling:
Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings.
With the mood that the language creates, the reader is probably not surprised by the story's outcome: for before the reader's eyes, a Christmas miracle takes place. Each of the young people gives up that which is dearest to him or her, as a gift from the heart. The irony is not lost on the audience, especially when the narrator likens the couple to the magi. Like them, the narrator notes:
And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were of the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are the wisest. Everywhere they are the wisest. They are the magi.
The narrator belittles his technique first by claiming his account is "lame," and then he resorts to some sarcasm, citing that they "unwisely" sacrificed; however, in the last several sentences, he points out the irony, and says that they gave most wisely: they are the magi—the wise ones. This, then, points to the story's themes of love and generosity:
It is more blessed to give than to receive. (Matt. 19:21)
Their joy comes from sharing, and along with the warm ending, the narrator provides a rich and wonderful tale—not the "lame" story he alludes to.
check Approved by eNotes Editorial