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The Gift of the Magi

by O. Henry

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In the last paragraph, O. Henry describes the magi, but why do you think he makes the allusion to the Magi in his story of Jim and Della?

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The allusion to the Magi seems inappropriate at first to the reader.  For, after all, the Magi (the Latinized form of the Greek word for magic) were a select sect of hereditary priesthood who had extraordinary religious knowledge and their gifts were of great monetary value, intended to suggest great respect and devotion.  However, as the reader reflects upon the characters in the story, he/she soon realizes that Jim and Della are wealthier and more knowledgeable in the ways of love than elite priests of profound and extraordinary knowledge. 

And, with the magic of true love, "two foolish children" realized more than the Magi:  Ironically, they realize the most valuable gift is the gift of unselfish love. 

Such as they are the wisest.  Everywhere they are the wisest.  They are the Magi.

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According to the paragraph:

The magi, as you know, were wise men--wonderfully wise men--who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. 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 the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

The Magi, or three wisemen, are connected with being the first givers of gifts upon the birth of Jesus. Their gifts were "wise" because each symbolized something unique to the recipient. The Gold is the symbol of kings, Gapar gave him Incense, which is the an allusion to divinity, and Balthasar gave Mirrh, which in an allusion that the Son of Man will eventually have to die.

Regardless of this, in the story, the two protagonists likewise give each other utterly symbolic gifts that represent something unique to them.

In the end, however, O.Henry refers to them as silly- but this is just a way of showing the things one does for love, and the sacrifices one must endure for others. In doing this sacrifice, they became "the wise men"- or persons of equal quality of nature, above a world much less humbled by circumstances.

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Why does O. Henry compare Jim and Della in his short story "The Gift of the Magi" to biblical magi?

The magi are also well-known as the Three Wise Men.  According to the story of the magi, these men traveled far and long in order to find Jesus and give their gifts to Him.  The gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were very precious during that time.  They were also a contrast to the poverty into which Jesus was born; He could not use these gifts. However, the gifts and the long journey were great sacrifices for these three men.  They symbolized the deep love they had for Jesus.  Likewise, Della and Jim each sacrificed their most prized possessions—Jim’s watch and Della’s beautiful hair. The gifts may not seem wise to the reader because the two are unable to use them.  However, O. Henry calls the young newlyweds wise and compares them to the magi.  Their gifts were given to symbolize the deep love they had for each other.  Even in their extreme poverty, they were rich.

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Why does O. Henry compare Jim and Della in his short story "The Gift of the Magi" to biblical magi?

O. Henry's beautiful Christmas tale draws many allusions to the biblical magi, or wise men, and on so many levels, in his story "The Gift of the Magi." First, the magi from the bible can be compared to Jim and Della because they all sacrifice so much in obtaining and giving their chosen gifts. The Magi gave very expensive ore, metals, and oils to the baby Jesus while also traveling for years to find him. Jim and Della are like the magi by this same token because they both sacrifice something very dear to them in order to obtain and give their gifts. To Jim, his family watch was priceless; and to Della, her hair symbolized the time and care it takes to maintain such long locks, but also represented her femininity and role as a young bride. Authors uses allusions, or parallels, such as these to drive home a connection between the characters and universal human truth. At the time, many of O. Henry's readers were Christian of some kind and many understood the sacrifices taken in order to give gifts at Christmas time. By giving the title to Jim and Della's story a connection to the wise men, the audience is consciously aware of the connection that the author wants to make. Part of the conclusion that can be drawn between the title and the story is that no matter how wealthy or poor a person is, giving a gift with love is the most precious of sentiments; and, you don't have to be a magi to give a gift that matters.

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Why does O. Henry compare Jim and Della in his short story "The Gift of the Magi" to biblical magi?

I believe that O. Henry initially intended to draw a closer analogy between the Youngs and the story of the birth of Jesus in the New Testament. Jim and Della Young can hardly be compared with the Magi in the Bible. The Three Kings, as they are also called in the New Testament, brought gifts to the baby Jesus. O. Henry gives a very interesting hint that the common denominator between the two stories is a baby. Here is the one significant sentence:

Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two--and to be burdened with a family!

This is Della thinking to herself. She does not think he is burdened with a wife but to be burdened with a family. This seems to suggest plainly that Della is pregnant. It also seems to imply that she has not yet told Jim about it. It should hardly come as a surprise that Della is expecting a baby, what with all the hugging and kissing that goes on in their flat. 

O. Henry apparently intended to equate Della's as yet unborn baby with the baby in the New Testament who was born in a manger inside a stable. But he must have realized that he would be risking offending a great many readers who believed that Mary was a virgin and that Jesus was the son of God. Some readers might even get the idea that the author was implying that Della's baby would be the long-awaited second coming of Christ.

The sentence quoted above is interesting in its construction. Della thinks, "...and to be burdened with a family!" In other words, Jim is going to be burdened but he is not burdened yet. Della is pregnant. Jim probably doesn't know it because she is reluctant to tell him. (These things happen.) She obviously doesn't have the baby yet, because she is able to go rushing out of the flat to sell her hair.

With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.

Many people have asked questions about how the story of the Magi applies to the story of Jim and Della Young. In its final form it does not apply to them very suitably. They are poor, while the Magi were all kings and were able to bring the baby luxury gifts which included gold. The Magi did not give gifts to each other, as Jim and Della do. The Magi did not have to make any sacrifices to raise money. It would appear that there is a hidden secret in this story. O. Henry started out to draw an analogy between a contemporary young couple who were going to have a baby and a couple named Joseph and Mary who had to spend the night in a stable  because there was no room at the inn. What the two couples have in common is that they are both poor. 

O. Henry had to be content with suggesting that the gift of the Magi was Jim and Della's spiritual enlightenment with the realization that their love for each other was more important than any material possessions. Della is terribly afraid that Jim will cease to love her because she looks so strange without her beautiful hair. She needs his love at this time in particular. She is not unlike many young wives who find themselves pregnant and are afraid to break the news to their young husbands because they don't know how their men will react. Della's anxiety throughout the story, as well as her strong motivation to please her husband, is probably more attributable to her unrevealed pregnancy than to any strong desire to buy him a nice Christmas present.

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Why does O. Henry compare Jim and Della in his short story "The Gift of the Magi" to biblical magi?

Jim and Della Young are the only significant characters in "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry. They are a young couple who love each other very much and, though they once had more money, are now worrying about how to get each other a gift worthy of the the other because they have no money to spare. 

Della has long, luxuriant, and beautiful hair; it is something she values and which her husband admires. Jim has a pocket watch which was handed down from his grandfather and father; it is his prized possession. Because they have nothing else to give, they each give their prized possession to get a gift worthy of the one they love. Della sells her hair to buy Jim the perfect chain for his watch so he will no longer have to hide his prized possession in his pocket because he does not have a chain for it. Jim, we discover at the end of the story, sold his watch to buy the lovely hair combs Della has admired so she can adorn her beautiful hair.

These sacrificial acts are what prompt the narrator of the story to compare Della and Jim to the Magi. In the Bible, the Magi are the three kings who travel for years, following a star, just to see the Christ child which they know was a fulfillment of prophecy that a Savior would be born. They bring Jesus costly gifts, but their greater gift to him was the sacrifice of their journey, their willingness to leave their homes and come to him.

The narrator ends the story with this explanation:

The magi, as you know, were wise men--wonderfully wise men--who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. 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 the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

Jim and Della's sacrificial love is like the sacrifices the Magi made for Jesus out of love. Both wanted to honor someone they loved with worthy gifts, and both had to sacrifice to do it, so the comparison is apt. 

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Why does O. Henry call Jim and Della the Magi?

O. Henry was writing a Christmas story which would probably be published in the Christmas issue of his newspaper. The story contains many references to the Christmas story told in the New Testament. There is, of course, a big difference between Jim and Della Young and the three kings, or Magi, in the Bible. The Magi were very wealthy men and brought the baby Jesus valuable presents, including gold. Jim and Della are poor, but O. Henry twice maintains that they are, figuratively speaking, richer than the richest men and women in the Bible.

In the first instance, O. Henry compares Jim to King Solomon and Della to the Queen of Sheba, whose famous encounter is related in the Old Testament (1 Kings 10).

Had the Queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty's jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

This is O. Henry's wildest hyperbole, but it serves to show how much Jim values his watch and how much Della values her hair. After Jim and Della realize they sacrificed their greatest treasures without being able to benefit each other, O. Henry expresses the moral of his Christmas story in similar hyperbole.

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 the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

O. Henry, of course, is using poetic license. He does not mean that the Youngs are literally like the wealthy kings in the Christmas story, but rather that Jim and Della are in a sense richer than King Solomon, the Queen of Sheba, and the three Magi because they possess the most valuable thing in the world: their love for each other. Many readers must have recognized the truth in all this poetic hyperbole, because O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi" is the most popular story he ever wrote.

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Why does O. Henry call Jim and Della the Magi?

The Magi are also known as "the Wise men". As far as O Henry, he used the play on words by calling them "foolish" at the beginning because of their youth, their seeming immaturity, and their situation.

However, it makes all the most sense at the end to understand how these three qualities are precisely what makes them so wise as far as love, commitment, and sacrifice. These latter are three characteristics that many people lack, and yet, they not only have them, but took them to the utmost for each other. This is how Jim and Della are magi (wise).

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Why does O. Henry call Jim and Della the Magi?

Think about how these gifts were given: each sacrificed his or her most precious possession in order to obtain the gift the other would cherish the most. The Magi have been described variously throughout biblical and secular history, but most descriptions include some reference to their "priestliness." The acts that Jim and Della perform become sorts of rituals, in that the gifts have a symbolic meaning, possibly of a greater love.

Reread the ending a couple of times, and see if you can come up with your own response based on your emotional reaction to what happened, and how the characters themselved dealt with it. Did they become angry or resentful? No. They understood, and went on with their lives with the understanding that the benefits of the gifts would come later, as in the original Christmas story.

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Why does O. Henry call Jim and Della the Magi?

The Magi, or the three wise men who come and kneel before the infant Jesus are a symbol of humility.  These three kings come from afar to pay homage to a child born in a stable.  They come to worship him as he lay in a manger filled with straw and surrounded by animals. 

Their wisdom transcends the poverty of the infant child before them, the Magi, dressed in fine robes, feel honored to stand in his sight.  They bring him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, all very valuable, but these gifts do not match the magnitude of the birth of the Savior and the Magi know this.

The Magi, like Jim and Delia, are symbols of humility and humbleness of spirit.  They sacrifice their most prized possessions to obtain money to buy a special Christmas gift for the person they love most in the world. 

They want to honor each other by showing their love through gifts chosen with great care, just like the Magi did when they came to the baby Jesus's side to witness the miracle of his birth.

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