Recall why Della is unhappy when "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry begins?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry is a story about sacrificial love, and the theme begins in the opening lines of the story. It is Christmas Eve, and Della Young is not happy. She only has one dollar and eighty-seven cents, and that is not enough money to buy her husband a nice gift for Christmas. 

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it.

She has been scrimping and saving, literally a penny here and a penny there, but she still does not have enough money to buy Jim a watch fob worthy of the watch that had once belonged to his father and his grandfather. That watch is Jim's prized possession, and Della wanted to give him a chain so he could wear it proudly. 

Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling--something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.

Things will change as the story progresses. As the story begins, however, Della is sad and upset because she has no money to buy him a Christmas gift.