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 Monkey's Paw" and "The Gift of the Magi," there are symbols of the paw and of the gifts of the combs and watch chain. What do each of the symbols represent? Use text examples to support your answers.

The paw in "The Monkey's Paw" symbolizes evil, while the combs and watch chain in "The Gift of the Magi" symbolize sacrificial love. In "The Monkey's Paw," the paw causes the death of the Whites' son. In "The Gift of the Magi," the combs and watch chain bring Della and Jim closer together, because they sacrificed what they most loved for the other person.

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The monkey's paw is a symbol of evil. Mrs. White draws back from the withered paw in disgust, but Herbert and his father are drawn to the seductive power it offers. The Sergeant-Major explains,

It had a spell put on it by an old fakir... a very holy man. He wanted to show that fate ruled people’s lives, and that those who tried to change it would be sorry. He put a spell on it so that three different men could each have three wishes from it.

We can guess from the start that the wishes will bring evil, but the temptations of having their wishes granted is too strong for the Whites to resist. However, after Mr. White makes his first wish, he is horrified when the paw moves, crying out that it "twisted in my hand like a snake." As a snake is a traditional symbol of the devil, this suggests that the paw is evil. The paw's evil is confirmed when the Whites' wish for money is granted through a great evil, the death of Herbert. This brings the parents an insurance payment.

In contrast, the combs and watch chain represent the sacrificial love that Della and Jim have for each other. Each is willing to give up what they most treasure to show their love to the other. Della sells her beloved hair to buy a watch chain for Jim as a Christmas present. Jim, in turn, sells his watch to buy the tortoise shell combs for Della. Each shows they love the other more than than themselves by their willing to sacrifice. In this way, the gifts they give each other, though now useless, have cemented their relationship. O'Henry's narrator likens these gifts to the gifts the Magi gave the infant Jesus on the first Christmas:

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.

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