Allusion In The Gift Of The Magi

What are the allusions in "The Gift of the Magi"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Writers use allusions within a story to reference something that exists outside the text itself. Allusions can invoke a wide range of subjects: they can draw from history, culture, or other works of literature, to name just a few examples.

Ultimately, I would say the key allusion in "The Gift of the Magi" is the allusion contained in the story's title, an allusion that might actually be carried across its entire structure. In many ways, O. Henry's short story, set during the Christmas holidays and focused as it is on the subject of gift-giving, seems to have been written in conversation with the Christmas story of the magi and the birth of Christ. His specific choice of title might well have the potential effect of raising those biblical connections in the minds of his readers, connections which might be further reinforced through additional biblical allusions to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Furthermore, the allusion contained within the story's title will later become invoked within the text itself, when O. Henry makes reference to the magi (and even compares his two protagonists with the magi as the story comes to an end).

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Posted on

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry has three distinct Biblical allusions -- the magi, King Solomon, and the Queen of Sheba.  

The magi were three men that traveled from far away lands in order to give gifts to the newly born Christ child.  Depending on who you ask, the magi range from being simple wise men, to being kings. Regardless, all accounts agree that the three men gave expensive gifts to Jesus (gold, frankincense, and myrrh).  Of the three Biblical allusions in the story, the magi is the most overt.  It's in the title of the story, and O. Henry explicitly tells his readers about them in the final paragraph.  

The magi, as you know, were wise men—wonderfully wise men— who brought gifts to the newborn Christ-child. They were the first to give Christmas gifts. Being wise, their gifts were doubtless wise ones.

The allusions to the Queen of Sheba and Solomon are much more veiled.  What O. Henry does though, by hinting at Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, is pick two people who were historically crazy rich.  From I Kings 10:

And when the Queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the LORD, she came to prove him with hard questions. And she came to Jerusalem with a very great train, with camels that bore spices, and very much gold, and precious stones:

O. Henry hints at the Queen of Sheba when he says that Della's hair was more beautiful and valuable than "any queen’s jewels and gifts."  

As for King Solomon, the Bible describes him this way:

King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth.

O. Henry tells his readers that no king has ever had anything as valuable as Jim's watch. That king could only be King Solomon.  

So despite the fact that Jim and Della are dirt poor, they own things more valuable than any king or queen ever has, and they willingly give those things up in order to give gifts to each other.  That's some deep love.  

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Posted on

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Because many of O. Henry's stories are set in New York at the turn of the century, there are usually references to things or places in this area. Here some local allusions:

  • Coney Island - This is a peninsula on which there are residences and seaside resorts; however, it is most famous for its amusement park and boardwalk. In the setting of the narrative of "The Gift of the Magi" at the beginning of the twentieth century, Coney Island was at its peak with its beach, snack shops, and amusement park, vaudeville-type shows and chorus girls.
  • Madame Sofronie's shop - In the early 1900s, wealthy women liked to wear hairpieces, so poorer women with luxurious hair would sell their hair to such shops as that of Mme. Sofronie, who has probably assumed a French name to seem more cultured.

Other allusions are Biblical:

  • King Solomon of the Old Testament was the second son of King David. When God appeared to him in a dream, telling him he would grant him whatever he asked, Solomon requested understanding and discernment. This request so pleased God that He granted it, but also provided Solomon great riches and power.
  • The Magi - This is the name for the three kings, the three wise men, who followed the star to the humble shelter where Jesus, the Savior, was born. Known as the Magi, they brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. This reference is made in connection with Stella and Jim, who have given gifts gratuitously and without anticipation of any return.
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Posted on

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

All of your listed allusions are indeed allusions because any allusion refers to something famous.

The "rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters" is a simile, not a metaphor because it is a comparison using like.

The greatest allusion is in the title, The Gift of the Magi, which refers to the sacrificial gifts the wise men gave after their long journey to find the Christ child. Each gift was fit for a king, but given under the humblest of circumstances. Each magi risked a great deal to get their treasure all the way to the baby Jesus. What is so cool about this allusion is how it parallels the journeys and careful efforts of Jim and Della during their gift-giving that Christmas. Think about it, their gifts became worthless. The gifts of the magi that original Christmas became worthless too in that nothing compared to the gift the Christ child was about to heap on humanity.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Posted on

Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial