What is the rising action of the short story "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry begins with a dilemma: Della does not have enough money to buy her husband something nice for Christmas. The inciting action, then, is when she cuts her hair to get the money to buy her gift. 

Everything between the inciting action and the climax is rising action, so the next thing to decide is what event serves as the climax of the story. It seems to me to be when Della opens her gift and sees the combs. We know then, though Della does not seem to, that, ironically, Jim has sold his watch to buy the combs. If you choose something else as the climax, you can adjust the following events which comprise the rising action.

After Della buys her husband's watch fob, she goes home.

When Della reached home...she got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends--a mammoth task.

After she curls her hair, she fixes a nice dinner and waits impatiently for him. Then Jim comes home and cannot quit looking at Della's short hair (and we will soon discover why). Della quickly explains why she sold her hair, and Jim gives her his gift. 

As I said, if you disagree about what the climax/crisis/turning point of the story is, you can simply include the events between inciting action and that event. That is the rising action. 

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The story begins with exposition: background information about Della and how hard she has been trying to save money. Yet all she has been able to put by is one dollar and eighty-seven cents, and tomorrow is Christmas Day. From this point on, until the climax, everything that follows will be rising action: Della cries; we learn more about the Youngs' home and why they have fallen on hard times; and we learn about Della's hair, including its beauty and importance to her. Then, Della leaves to sell her hair and buy Jim a simple gold watch chain as a gift. When she returns home, she spends forty minutes working to beautify her new, shorn hair, and she frets that Jim will be upset with her while she prepares dinner. I believe the climax is when Jim sees his wife without her hair. Since we do not yet know whether he is angry with Della, this is the "turning point" so to speak. We do not know how he is feeling, and Della is nervous and fearful that he will no longer think she is pretty. At this point, then, when Jim walks in while Della panics, the rising action stops.