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

The Gift of the Magi book cover
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Why are Jim and Della called magi in "The Gift of the Magi"?

Jim and Della are called magi in "The Gift of the Magi" because they each show wisdom. Magi is the plural of magus, meaning a wise man. And it was the three magi, or wise men, who brought gifts to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. The narrator regards Jim and Della as wise because they've realized what's truly important in life.

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Steph Müller eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I would argue that the characters in this heartwarming story are called magi because they are both givers of gifts, and this is the center of the story. The word "magi" is most widely known in terms of the wise men who brought gifts to baby Jesus after his birth. In the story, Jim and Della are also smart enough to realize that love is actually the greatest gift they could ever give each other.

The couple doesn't have much money, so Della has gone and sold her hair in order buy Jim a watch fob as a gift. Jim, meanwhile, has sold the watch for which the fob was intended in order to buy Della some beautiful combs to put in her hair. Both the fob and the combs, therefore, turn out to be useless to the other party. The self-sacrificial nature of both gifts, however, is priceless. Della has given up her hair, which is a part of who she is, and Jim has given up his watch, which was a prized possession.

Through this gift-giving, they have had the wisdom to realize that the love they give to one another is far greater than any gift. This wisdom earns them the title of "magi."

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Though they're undoubtedly very nice people, it does initially seem a bit of a stretch to describe Jim and Della as magi. Unlike the three wise men, or magi, who brought gifts to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem, this young couple doesn't seem to be possessed of much in the way of wisdom. After all, Della sold some of her beautiful locks to buy Jim a gold watch-chain, whereas Jim, for his part, sold his watch to buy Della a set of fancy combs. In other words, they both bought each other gifts that are pretty useless. Not very wise, we might think.

Yet the narrator is adamant that Jim and Della do indeed deserve to be called wise, and it's not hard to see why. In giving each other gifts in the spirit of loving kindness, they have shown the same kind of wisdom displayed by the wise men when they rocked up at that little stable in Bethlehem all those years ago.

When it comes to the act of gift giving, it's the thought that counts, as they say. And what matters in the case of Jim and Della is not what they gave each other, but the thought behind their gifts. In giving each other gifts that fully expressed their love, they were showing their wisdom in understanding the true nature of Christmas.

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leveretanne eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Mr. and Mrs. James Dillingham Young, or Jim and Della, are called "the magi" in the final sentence of O. Henry's short story. It is explained at the conclusion of the story that the magi were the "wonderfully wise men" who gave the very first Christmas presents when they bore gifts to Christ in the manger. Since they were wise men, their gifts were undoubtably wise, too, and it is suggested that the spirit of their love and generosity are something to strive for in the gift-giving season.

In the story, Jim and Della are a young married couple who, despite pinching pennies from their meager salaries, find they don't have the money saved to buy the gift they each think the other deserves. Della finds she has "only $1.87 to buy a gift for Jim. Her Jim. She had had many happy hours planning something nice for him. Something nearly good enough. Something almost worth the honor of belonging to Jim." We learn that despite their humble living circumstances, each character has something that is precious and of much value to them. Jim owns a watch that has been passed down to him by his father, who received it from his father. Della has beautiful brown hair that reaches below her knee. O. Henry compares these items to the riches and jewels of kings and queens, and the items seem priceless due to their rarity and sentimental value. The comparison of them to jewels, juxtaposed against the repetitive use of grays and browns in the description of their clothing and home, suggest that these items bring them much joy despite their challenging and modest circumstances.

However, a major theme of the story is love, and despite their love for these items, their devotion to the happiness of each other is stronger. Della sells her hair to buy the perfect chain for Jim’s watch, and Della soon learns that Jim has sold his watch to buy hair combs that Della has long admired. These seemingly priceless items actually pale in value when compared to their love for one another. "And here I have told you the story of two children who were not wise," the narrator tells us, suggesting that many readers might view Della and Jim as foolish, with both their sacrifices and new gifts rendered useless. However, the narrator quickly adds, "Let me speak a last word to the wise of these days: Of all who give gifts, these two were the most wise. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are the most wise." The moral of the story is that the true gift that both Della and Jim give each other is the sacrifice of something personally valuable in order to bring happiness to the other. Furthermore, Della optimistically tells Jim, "My hair grows so fast," and Jim "smiled" at seeing her gift. Rather than criticizing each other or mourning the loss of their treasures, both characters recognize the value of each other's sacrifice and are content. This knowledge and understanding makes them wisest of gift-givers, and, therefore, they are considered to be like the magi.

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