The Gift of the Magi Questions and Answers
by O. Henry

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In the story "The Gift of the Magi," how does O. Henry uses irony to develop the theme of the story?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The most notable example of irony in "The Gift of the Magi" is situational irony. This is a literary device whereby there's a gap between what's expected to happen and what actually does happen.

In the story, Jim and Della each buy the other a nice Christmas present. Jim buys Della a set of fancy combs; Della buys Jim a chain for his gold watch. Unfortunately—and herein lies the situational irony—these gifts turn out to be useless. In order to buy Jim's watch chain Della sold some of her beautiful locks to an upmarket salon; and for his part, Jim sold his gold watch to buy Della a set of combs. As we can see, there's a huge gap between what Della and Jim were expecting and what actually happened, hence the situational irony.

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In the story The Gift of the Magi O. Henry uses irony to develop the theme of the story by presenting us with two characters who are described as "silly" or "foolish", because they are young, in love, and living life with financial difficulties during the holidays: A time where everyone is bit by the fever of gifting, and buying things for others.

Within this context we get the biggest irony of all: They cannot find the way to please each other during the season, and their love for each other makes the other sacrifice things they like for the sake of making the other happy. In the end, they gave each other the same thing they sacrificed.

All this is a lesson on altruism and the things one does for love. It is a lesson also on how sacrifices become small when one does them for the right cause, and how getting things becomes unimportant in relationship to the happiness that they provoke in someone we love.

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caseymacauley000 | Student

what is the theme of "the gift of the magi"?