Why do you think that O. Henry named the story "The Gift of the Magi?"

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I suppose I have read O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi" many times over the years. The story is a little corny by modern standards, but it still is an interesting read because it captures the flavor of the times. Readers wanted feel-good stories like that, and O. Henry knew how to please the popular taste. I must confess that I have never liked his title. Comparing Della and Jim to the Magi in Matthew 2 in the New Testament is a bit of a stretch, but it would seem that O. Henry was trying to wrap up his story to meet a deadline and looking for a moral to explain its meaning. What bothers me is that Della and Jim were poor but the Magi were rich. Della and Jim made big sacrifices to buy each other Christmas presents, but the Magi gave the baby Jesus gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold is obviously an expensive present, and frankincense and myrrh must have been costly enough themselves. The Three Magi are often referred to as the Three Kings. Jim was hardly a king and Della was hardly a queen. O. Henry's story is about poor people and should have remained about poor people through to the end.

O. Henry had a tendency to use big words to impress his readers with his vocabulary, and he also used allusions to impress his readers with his erudition. Here are some examples of big words O. Henry uses in "The Gift of the Magi" when he could have chosen simpler words:

imputation of parsimony

appertaining thereunto


meretricious ornamentation

I believe O. Henry's story might be better without the fancy vocabulary and without the references to the Magi. O. Henry frequently reminds me of the great Charles Dickens, and O. Henry's pretentious use of polysyllabic words reminds me of one of Dickens' most famous characters, Wilkins Micawber in David Copperfield. Dickens also wrote about poor people, and the great English author might have adopted that distinctive ironic style, a mixture of pathos, humor and hyperbole, as a sort of veiled apology for taking the lower classes too seriously. O. Henry probably did the same thing mainly because he caught the infectious mannerism from Charles Dickens.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One cannot ever assume to know the real reason an author names a text what he or she does. Many believe reasoning behind a title can be found through analysis.  Allusions, symbols, and imagery all help to defend the interpretation behind the relevance of a title.

In O. Henry's short story "The Gift of the Magi," the meaning behind the title has been aligned with those who bestowed gifts upon the baby Jesus. The couple in the text, Della and Jim, both sacrifice the one thing which means something to them both (Della's hair and Jim's watch). Ironically, each sell the thing for which the gift from the other was bought (Jim purchases a hair comb, and Della purchases a watch chain). In the end, their gifts represent one thing: how much each loves the other.

The giving of the gifts by the Magi to baby Jesus symbolize the love they had for the new born baby. The Magi did not even know the baby, yet they brought him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts, as extravagant as they were, could not be technically used by the baby. Therefore, the gifts simply signified the love they held for the infant.

user7366449 | Student

The story is based during Christmas time, and the maji are the wise men. Della and Jim both gave up what was most important to them for the other person. The wise men also gave up very important things for the well being of another person. So, O. Henry is relating Della and Jim to the maji.

crcauthorn | Student

The Magi were wise men and they gave gifts that were precious and valuable to someone they deemed important.  O. Henry is comparing Della and Jim to these Magi because they were "wise" in that they sacrificed something very valuable to them for the person they deemed most important.  They are not wise by society's standards, but by standards that matter more.