What problem do Della and Jim have in the story?   

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Della is the point-of-view character in "The Gift of the Magi." She and Jim have the same problems: each wants to buy the other a nice Christmas present, and neither of them has any money. But it would be a mistake to try to write an essay about this story as if both Della and Jim have problems of equal weight. This is Della's story. Jim is a minor character. He only appears at the end. He exists mainly in Della's thoughts, and we see him from her point of view when he returns home from work. People will always remember "The Gift of the Magi" as a story about a young woman who sold her long, treasured hair in order to buy her husband a Christmas present. It is true that Jim sold his watch, but that happened offstage, so to speak. We do not see him agonizing over buying his wife a gift or agonizing over parting with the elegant gold watch which had been his father's and his grandfather's before that. In writing a paper about this story it would be much easier to focus on Della's thoughts, feelings, and actions than to try to deal with the problems of both characters simultaneously. We know very little about Jim, but we know a lot about Della because O. Henry chose to make it Della's story. We see that remarkable long, youthful, glowing hair done up, let down, done up again, and finally shorn off by the unsympathetic Madame Sofronie. Everything is about Della's hair. Even the combs Jim brings her were intended to hold and highlight that beautiful long hair.