illustration of two people, a woman and a man, looking at one another in profile with an ornate hair comb between them

The Gift of the Magi

by O. Henry
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In "The Gift of the Magi," describe how O. Henry establishes the poverty of the young couple and how it shows the beauty of their relationship.

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In “The Gift of the Magi,” O. Henry shows us the poverty of the young couple—Della and Jim—rather then telling us that they are poor. Let's look at how he does that and then see how their poverty enhances the beauty of their relationship.

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In “The Gift of the Magi,” O. Henry shows us the poverty of the young couple—Della and Jim—rather then telling us that they are poor. Let's look at how he does that and then see how their poverty enhances the beauty of their relationship.

The story begins with “One dollar and eighty-seven cents.” This is all the money Della has to spend on a Christmas present for her husband, and it certainly isn't much. We can tell this because Della sits down on the “shabby little couch” and cries. Della and Jim are poor. They cannot afford nice furniture; what they have comes with their flat, which only costs eight dollars a week. Jim only earns twenty dollars a week, and as Della reflects, that “doesn't go far,” and their expenses always seem to be more than she has planned. Indeed, this young couple is quite poor.

Yet Della is determined to buy Jim a wonderful Christmas present, and she decides what she must do. She puts on her “old brown jacket” and “old brown hat” (for she cannot afford new clothes) and goes out. Then Della sells her hair for twenty dollars and buys her husband a wonderful watch fob chain to go on his heirloom watch. Yes, Della is forced to sell her hair to get the kind of present she wants for Jim.

The irony of the story comes when Jim reveals his present to Della. He has pawned his watch to get her hair combs. When the two young people realize what has happened, they decide to put their gifts aside for a bit and not use them. Yet their sacrifices in the midst of their poverty reveal how much they love each other. They are both willing to give up their most prized possession for the sake of their beloved, and this is truly beautiful. Poverty cannot hinder love.

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