In "The Gift of the Magi", what are the conflicts in the narrative: man vs. man; man vs. nature; and man vs. himself?

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Della experiences a character vs. self conflict in regards to her Christmas gift for her husband, Jim. She looks at herself in the mirror while taking down her hair, 

And then she put it up on her head again, nervously and quickly. Once she stopped for a moment and stood still while a tear or two ran down her face.

She cries because she doesn't want to part with the thing she's proudest of—her long and lustrous hair—but she also really wants to buy her husband a nice present. Once she resolves her conflict, she must move fast so as not to change her mind. She tells Mrs. Sofronie, who buys hair, to "'give [the money] to [her] quick.'" It seems as though Della is afraid she might change her mind, so conflicted as she is, if she doesn't complete the transaction before she has time to second-guess her decision.

Della does worry that Jim might be upset with her, but when he returns home he is anything but angry. Therefore, though Della anticipates a potential conflict between herself and her husband. Though Jim enters with "an expression in [his eyes] that she could not understand," an expression that "filled her with fear," it turns out that he is only surprised, especially given the beautiful gift he purchased for her: jeweled combs with which to hold back her long hair!

gbeatty eNotes educator| Certified Educator

An interesting question. The conflicts in the story are man vs. man and man vs. himself. You can see both of these conflicts in this section in which Della looks at herself in the mirror:

"If Jim doesn't kill me,” she said to herself, “before he takes a second look at me, he'll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do—oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty-seven cents?”


She's torn about what she's doing in cutting off her hair—man vs. himself—and she is anticipating a conflict with Jim—man vs. man.