What quote in "The Gift of the Magi" displays situational irony?  

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Situational irony is defined as an incongruity between what is expected and what actually happens. Both Della and Jim have expectations about the Christmas presents they have bought for each other. But this is really Della's story, so the situational irony would have to pertain to her expectations. She has sold her hair in order to raise twenty dollars to buy Jim an expensive platinum fob for his prized gold watch. The best quote illustrating situational irony occurs after Jim has seen her without her hair and after he has presented her with the set of tortoise shell combs. She gives him the beautiful watch-fob which has cost her such a sacrifice. In one of O. Henry's famous surprise endings he responds as follows:

“Dell,” said he, “let's put our Christmas presents away and keep ’em a while. They're too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on.”

Irony is usually like a joke that would be funny if it were not so painful to the person or persons affected. Here we have two foolish young people who sacrificed their most treasured possessions for nothing. They must look and feel foolish. Della would look especially foolish because her loss is so conspicuous. But the reader does not feel like laughing at them. Only the Devil himself would laugh at Della and Jim. It would be "sardonic laughter." 

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Situational irony occurs when there is something unexpected in a situation, typically when something happens that one does not expect. One quotation that illustrates such a situation occurs when Della learns that Jim has bought her the expensive and beautiful combs she coveted immediately after she has just cut off and sold all of her hair:

They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

It is terribly ironic that Della would sell her beautiful hair to purchase Jim a lovely gold watch chain that he could be proud of and that Jim would sell his prized watch in order to buy his wife some jeweled combs for her hair. Each one sells the material possession that they most love in the world in order to make the other one happy with a thoughtful and valuable gift, and each one sells the thing that the other has in mind when buying that gift.