The Gift of the Magi Questions and Answers
by O. Henry

The Gift of the Magi book cover
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What's a theme for 'The Gift of the Magi' by O. Henry?  

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Phillip Holland eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The recurring theme in the "Gift of the Magi" is self-sacrifice.  Della and Jim are poor young people who are just trying to make ends meet.  Each one wants to give the other a nice Christmas present, but they do not have the means to do so.  Della sells her hair, which we are told is quite beautiful, in order to buy Jim a watch chain.  Jim sells his watch, which has been in the family for a long time, in order to buy Della some combs for her beautiful hair.  When they exchange gifts, they cannot use them.  However, generosity is at the heart of the story because these two gave their most prized possessions.  In the Bible story, the Magi (Three Wise Men) brought the infant Jesus gold, frankincense, and myrrh because these were the valuable things of that period.  Della and Jim gave the most valuable things they possessed, and that is what gives the story the themes of generosity and self-sacrifice.  

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Inuk Lee eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There are many themes in the short story, "Gift of the Magi."  For example, love, sacrifice, and generosity are all important themes.  However, if I had to pick the central theme and my favorite, I would pick the idea of self-forgetfulness. 

Both Jim and Della are thinking about each other, instead of themselves.  The proof of this is their desire to get gifts for one another by selling what is most valuable to them. 

Della sells her hair for Jim.  She wants to buy him a chain for his watch. Jim sells his watch to buy combs for Della's flowing hair.  Of course, in the end they possess gifts that they cannot use, but in the process they forget about themselves.  They learn the true meaning of Christmas - giving, generosity, and sacrifice.  For this reason, they are wise. 

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