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 is the setting of "The Gift of the Magi"?

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The story takes place in New York during the Christmas holiday season.  Della and Jim, the couple who are the main characters in the short story, live in a tiny but well-kept apartment.  It is sparsely furnished due to the couple's meager income.  One also gets an idea that the apartment is a little cool since the weather in New York is often cold at that time of year.  From the setting, the reader gets an idea that Della and Jim are industrious people who just happen to be poor--one gets this idea from the statement that the apartment was tidy.  The setting makes the reader appreciate the generosity of Della and Jim who give so selflessly when in reality neither has much to offer in the way of material possessions.  

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This lovely short story takes place in the apartment of the two main characters, Della and Jim. Their apartment is small, with only two windows and the looking glass (mirror) mentioned. The narrator actually states, "Furnished rooms at a cost of $8 a week. There is little more to say about it." Other than that, the only other detail we get about the apartment is that even their mailbox is very small.

Really, the physical setting is not that important. What's more important about the setting is the time, which is Christmas Eve. This is necessary because it shows us the desperation that these two have when it comes to buying a gift for one another - they've saved until, literally, the last minute. Now's the time to buy the gift, and they're each still short. This is why Della sells her beautiful hair and Jim sells his precious watch. 

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The story takes place in New York. O'Henry describes the apartment where Jim and Delia live in great detail in order for the reader to understand the great sacrifices Delia and Jim are making when they sell their most prized possessions. The details of their apartment also give the setting a more realistic feeling, so that we can identify with the characters.

 

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The story primarily takes place in the couple's apartment. It is described as being a meager place that they live, but clean and well-kept. Della works hard to make sure that what they do have is nice. There is a small mirror between two window in which Della can look to make sure she looks nice for Jim. It is upstairs and their mailbox, which is small for even the smallest amount of mail is downstairs. 

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O. Henry generally used one of five settings which were the American South, New York, the West, prison, or Central America. For The Gift of the Magi, he chose to set this story in New York.

He paid particular attention to the setting of Jim and Delia's immediate surroundings. Their poverty -stricken apartment that was furnished sparely and with tattered and worn furnishings, as well as the barren and lonely yard. The description of their isolated and poor setting adds to the mood that O. Henry wanted to create.

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