What's the theme of "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henri?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Gift of the Magi" is a Christmas story evidently intended to be published in the Christmas issue of a New York newspaper. As such, the story has a Christmas theme related to the spirit of giving. The theme hearkens back to one of the stories in the New Testament which is to be found in the King James Version of the Bible in Mark 12:41-44.

41 And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.

42 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.

43 And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:

44 For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.

The story of "The Widow's Two Mites" is also told in Luke 21:1-4.

In other words, it is the spirit behind the gift and not the gift itself that is important. Della and Jim Young illustrate this moral when they express their love for each other by giving everything they have at Christmas time. Della sacrifices her long, beautiful hair, and Jim sells his treasured pocket-watch in order to get enough money to buy each other Christmas presents. It is ironic that Jim no longer has a watch for the platinum fob Della gives him and Della no longer has the long hair to be held in place by the ornate tortoise-shell combs he buys for her. But what is important is that they love each other, and their gifts really only serve as symbols and proofs of their love, which is far more precious than any material objects.