What similarities can be found in the characters of Margaret Atwood's short story "Happy Endings" and O. Henry's short story "The Gift of the Magi"?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One similarity between the characters in Margaret Atwood's short story "Happy Endings" and the characters in O. Henry's short story "The Gift of the Magi" concerns the fact that they all value material possessions.

In version A of Atwood's short story, Mary and John are described as being in love, living in a "charming house," having "live-in help," going on "fun vacations," and having hobbies. Clearly, all of this happiness is a direct result of being able to afford the material possessions that can make them comfortable. Their continuing love for each other is directly proportional to their material possessions, since their comfort allows them to keep thinking well of each other and therefore keep loving each other.

Similarly, in O. Henry's short story, we see how much Della and Jim value material possessions. Unlike Mary and John, Della and Jim are currently a bit unhappy because times are financially hard; Jim's salary has just dropped from $30 a week to $20 a week, and since there are so many necessary expenses, they are unable to save any money for extra pleasures. Despite not having as much money as Mary and John in Atwood's story, it's clear just how much Della and Jim equate happiness and feeling love with material possessions. This is clear due to the fact that Della cries when she realizes she has only been able to save as much as a $1.87 to buy Jim's Christmas present. It's further clear due to the fact that both sell their only material possessions of value in order to get more material possessions to express their love for one another; Della sells her beautiful hair that Jim prizes, and Jim sells the gold watch he inherited from his grandfather that Della prizes in order to buy her combs for her hair.

However, Della and Jim are happy by the end of the story, despite being without the material possessions they once had. Their continued happiness is a direct result of their genuine love for each other and of their hope for a better future to come. Their hope in the future is expressed when Jim smiles and says, "Dell ... let's put our Christmas presents away and keep 'em a while. They're too nice to use just at present." Their happiness stands in stark contrast against the story of Mary and John, who most likely would not have remained happy without their material possessions.

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The Gift of the Magi

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