In the story "The Gift of the Magi," what sort of flat do the Youngs live in?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The flat is a shabby, furnished flat on the second floor with at least two windows.

The Youngs are not a wealthy couple.  They rent a flat, which is equipped with a shabby couch.  All of their furniture is rented.  They pay $8 a week for the furniture and the flat.

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.

“Mendicancy” means that they live like beggars, at least based on O’Henry’s analysis.  The sentence is a play on “beggar description.”  O’Henry is making a joke.  You can also tell that they are poor from the fact that the letter-box is too small for letters and the buzzer is broken.  James Young used to make $30 a week, and now he makes only $20, so the family has fallen on hard times.

We have a few little details throughout the story.  There is a “pier glass” between the windows of the room, which look out on a dull gray backyard.  Also, the flat is on the second floor.

We know that the Youngs are very young by the description of Jim.

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two--and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.

Despite the poverty, they want to buy good Christmas presents for each other.  Each of them gets creative and sells the only thing they have of value.  Jim sells his watch, and Della sells his hair.  They each buy each other luxurious gifts. Unfortunately, Della bought Jim a watch-band, and Jim bought Della combs for her hair.  

The irony is not lost of the Youngs, but they realize that the gifts demonstrate how much they love each other. You do not make a sacrifice like that unless you do.  Each gave up the possession he or she most valued to give the other a gift worthy of the person's inner beauty.