Irony In The Gift Of The Magi

What is the irony in "The Gift of the Magi"?

Expert Answers
troutmiller eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The irony lies in the fact that she cut her hair so that she could afford to buy him a fob chain for his watch.  She was willing to sacrifice something of worth to get him something nice.  When cutting her hair, she made his gift to her useless.  He bought her hair combs to hold up all of her long hair.  Now they are useless.  The irony on top of that is that he sold his watch for money to purchase the expensive combs for her.  This irony is the twist in the plot.  It is then tied into the sotry of the wise men who brought such expensive yet meaningless gifts to show respect, loyalty and admiration to the baby Jesus. What could a baby do with gold? But it was the effort and the sacrifice that counted.  Just as it is in this short story. They both sacrificed something very important to themselves to purchase something special for the other.  That is true love.

Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Irony is a literary device that occurs when the author uses elements of the story, like plot or character development, setting, or action to show contrast or the opposite of what the characters or the author may be feeling. 

Here's an example--  In "Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner," there is a line that says "Water, water every where, not any drop to drink."  This is an example of irony, because the ship is in the middle of the ocean.  Yes, the crew is surrounded by water, but they can not drink any of it.  Ah, the irony!

bmadnick eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The self-sacrifice of Jim and Delia is a genuine irony often found in the deepest human relationships. Sacrificing their most precious possessions is a reward of its own because by depriving themselves, they enrich the life of the other person. Irony is also seen because the gifts the couple gives to each other are useless. Delia can't wear her combs in her short hair, and Jim can't use his watch chain without his watch. The young couple learns that the greatest gift of all is their self-sacrificing love.

brendawm eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The irony of "The Gift of the Magi" is simple and has been used in many stories since its time, but it is  that of sacrificing something that means the most to you for someone that you love in order to provide them with something that you know that they would love.

In this case, Della sacrifices her hair to buy a chain for Jim's watch; while Jim, in turn, sacrifices his watch to buy combs for Della's hair.

kingfamily7122 | Student

The irony lies in the fact that Jim sold his beloved pocket watch to buy beautiful hair combs for Della, and Della sold her hair to buy a chain for Jim's pocket watch. Both of them sacrificed something that they truly loved to give something to their spouse only to find now that their gift cannot be used.

atyourservice | Student

Della sacrifices her hair to buy a chain for Jim's watch but because while Jim sold his watch to buy a comb for Della's hair he wasn't able to use the chain, and she wasn't able to use the comb because she cut her hair.

crystaltu001 | Student

They both sacrificed something to buy a present for their lover but in the end the things they got for each other had no use because those were the things they sold

namtayadav | Student

the gift of Magi is a classic example of situational irony......Della buys Jim a platinum chain for his watch by selling her hair....and Jim buys Della combs by selling his watch...we see that both the gifts are practically useless for the couple but it makes them wiser than the Magi as there is nothing more perfect than the gift of love 

zubiiii | Student

Irony is actually the contradiction between what is happening and what the reader think is is obvious throughout the story...the story revolves around Della who sells her hair for the sake of buying the gift for her husband....On the other hand, her husband jim is doing the same thing, although we are not told about it in the as to produce irony in the the ending is unexpectedly a surprising one.....and also enjoyable for the readers.

umangmind | Student

The main, general theme of this story by O'Henry is that giving is the greatest gift of all.  Della gives up her most cherished possession, her beautiful hair, to get a gift for her husband, Jim. She buys him a fob for his favorite possession--a pocket watch. Jim sells his pocket watch to buy beautiful combs for Della to adorn her hair.  Both gave up their most valued possession in order to give something to the one they loved.  The story is classic O'Henry with well developed characters, a city setting for the impoverished pair of young marrieds, and an ironic twist to the end of the story.

sonjarenee10 | Student

There are 3 types of irony - verbal, dramatic, and situational.  This story is a good example of situtional irony because neither the characters nor the reader knows what will happen next in the story.  We are all caught off guard until the end.  In this type of irony, you also have the make-up of the surprise ending.  I hope this helps!!  :-)

getcypromothini | Student

wat are th 3 types?

xannielovex | Student

this may not be an answer but i do believe when asking about irony you should ask the type of irony because there are 3 types of irony

zumba96 | Student

Delia works her life off to repay the necklace her friend gave her that one night which she lost, but in reality that necklace was a fake and she wasted her entire life while her friend enjoyed it