What is the climax of the story "The Gift of the Magi"?

Expert Answers

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

This is Della's story and is told entirely from her point of view. She has a problem. She wants to buy her husband a nice Christmas present but she has only managed to save a dollar and eighty-seven cents. So she impulsively decides to sell her hair, without taking time to give the consequences any thought. After she sells her hair for twenty dollars she buys Jim an expensive watch-fob. But then she has a new problem. She is afraid her husband won't love her any more when he sees how she looks. (Naturally the tough woman who bought Della''s hair took as much as she could without actually scalping the poor girl.) So the story is all about how much Della wants Jim's love. She sacrificed her hair to give him a present that would make him love her, but now she is afraid her sacrifice will have just the opposite effect. When Jim sees her he looks shocked. Della is terrified. The reader thinks Jim is really going to lose his affection for his young wife because she has lost her most beautiful feature. But instead he assures her that nothing could make him love her any less than he does. And to prove how much he loves her, he gives her the beautiful set of combs and explains that he had sold his treasured pocket-watch to raise the money for her Christmas present. This is the climax of the story. Afterwards, O. Henry does some philosophizing about love and Christmas and the Magi, but this is all anticlimactic. This is O. Henry's most famous story. It has one of his trademark surprise endings, but it leaves the reader with a genuine feeling of sympathy and affection for these two young people who were so poor and yet so rich because they had such love for each other. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The interesting fact about the climax of "The Gift of the Magi" is that it is part of two twists in the plot. The first, is the moment when Jim comes home, sees Della and sees that her hair is cut short. That itself is not the climax, but the preamble to it. The climax comes when he explains his shocked reaction by showing her the gift that he had gotten for her: combs for her long her.

The meaning of this is that his reaction was not out of shock at her looks, but due to the fact that he now realizes that she had made a sacrifice the same way that he did. They both gave up something very dear to them for the sake of one another.

For there lay The Combs—the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshiped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jeweled rims—just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession.

It is after the discovery of the combs that the rest of the action begins to slow down steadily, and this is why that is the climax. After it comes the second twist: Della has also a surprise for Jim; she got him a watch chain. Although none of the gifts do any good at his point, the act of sacrifice of this young couple speaks a lot about them and reflects the love that they have for one another.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The climax of the story is when the couple, Jim and Delia Young, discovers that they have both sacrificed their most beloved and valued personal possessions to buy gifts for each other. Delia sells her hair to buy a silver watch fob for Jim; while Jim sells his precious silver antique watch to buy tortoiseshell combs for Delia's hair. The gifts they give no longer have any used, except to symbolize the depth of their love and willingness to make sacrifices for each other.

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