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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What are the two incidents in "The Gift of the Magi"?

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There are two incidents that take place in this story. First, Della sells her long hair to Madame Sofronie. Remember that Della wants to buy Jim a Christmas present, but she only has $1.87. Madame Sofronie offers her $20, and although Jim loves her hair, Della agrees. This enables Della to buy him a platinum fob for his watch.

Second, Jim returns home and presents Della with a Christmas gift: a set of combs for her hair. But Della has no use for these combs, seeing as she has sold her hair to buy his gift. Worst of all, Jim has sold his prized pocket watch in order to buy the combs—he no longer has any use for the fob Della bought him. This is a significant event but one that leads the story to its conclusion: Jim and Della realize that their love is far more important and precious than any Christmas gift. 

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The first incident in "The Gift of the Magi" is when Della makes an important decision.  She wants to give Jim a special Christmas gift, but she only has $1.87.  Della knows that less than two dollars can buy very little.  She decides to sacrifice the one thing of value she possesses, which is her long hair.  Jim loves her hair, which "[falls] about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters."  Despite this, Della believes that he will like her chosen gift even more.  Della has her hair cut short and sells her long locks.  She takes the money to buy Jim a "platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design."  This is for his family heirloom pocket watch, which he loves.  

Filled with excitement about the gift, Della hurries home.  Jim comes home and is shocked to see her short hair.  This is when the second incident occurs.  Jim confesses to Della that he sold his special watch in order to buy her a pair of fancy hair combs.  They both realize that their gifts cannot be used as intended.  Instead, they are rendered useless. Despite this shock and disappointment, Jim and Della are content with their love for one another.

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