The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

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What is the main theme of the story ''The Gift of Magi'' by O. Henry?

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Wallace Field eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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An analysis of the title and the last paragraph of the story helps to illuminate the answer to your question. The title of the story refers to the three magi (the three wise men, kings) who came to see Jesus several days after his birth. They brought the Christ child expensive gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In the final paragraph of this story, the narrator returns to a discussion of these three wise men. However, he compares them, now, to Jim and Della, saying,

But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are the wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

Why would the narrator say that this young couple should be considered magi, that they are the wisest? This is a pretty big claim. Jim and Della each sacrificed the thing most important to them in order to give a beautiful and thoughtful and loving gift to the other. It isn't so much the gift that counts as the feeling and care behind it; so it doesn't matter that their gifts have been rendered unusable by their sacrifices. They realize something that the wise men needn't have because they were rich while Jim and Della are poor: that nothing is worth as much as love, and that there is no personal sacrifice too big to make for the person one loves.

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Dayna Watsica eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This is a good question. The main theme of the short story, "Gift of the Magi" is about the wisdom of giving. In other words, O. Henry crafts a masterful story about the idea that it is more blessed to give than to receive, which is very counter-intuitive in our society. 

You can see this in the main action of the story. Each main character - Jim and Della - seek to give gifts that are meaningful. Both in the end wind up with gifts that they cannot use. So, the getting is not the point. The giving is the point. The reason for this is simple. When we give, we show love. This is the main point of the story.

Here is one quote, actually the voice of O. Henry:

And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. 



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