Why does O. Henry compare Jim and Della in his short story "The Gift of the Magi" to biblical magi?

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phutchison | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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The magi are also well-known as the Three Wise Men.  According to the story of the magi, these men traveled far and long in order to find Jesus and give their gifts to Him.  The gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were very precious during that time.  They were also a contrast to the poverty into which Jesus was born; He could not use these gifts. However, the gifts and the long journey were great sacrifices for these three men.  They symbolized the deep love they had for Jesus.  Likewise, Della and Jim each sacrificed their most prized possessions—Jim’s watch and Della’s beautiful hair. The gifts may not seem wise to the reader because the two are unable to use them.  However, O. Henry calls the young newlyweds wise and compares them to the magi.  Their gifts were given to symbolize the deep love they had for each other.  Even in their extreme poverty, they were rich.

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tinicraw | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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O. Henry's beautiful Christmas tale draws many allusions to the biblical magi, or wise men, and on so many levels, in his story "The Gift of the Magi." First, the magi from the bible can be compared to Jim and Della because they all sacrifice so much in obtaining and giving their chosen gifts. The Magi gave very expensive ore, metals, and oils to the baby Jesus while also traveling for years to find him. Jim and Della are like the magi by this same token because they both sacrifice something very dear to them in order to obtain and give their gifts. To Jim, his family watch was priceless; and to Della, her hair symbolized the time and care it takes to maintain such long locks, but also represented her femininity and role as a young bride. Authors uses allusions, or parallels, such as these to drive home a connection between the characters and universal human truth. At the time, many of O. Henry's readers were Christian of some kind and many understood the sacrifices taken in order to give gifts at Christmas time. By giving the title to Jim and Della's story a connection to the wise men, the audience is consciously aware of the connection that the author wants to make. Part of the conclusion that can be drawn between the title and the story is that no matter how wealthy or poor a person is, giving a gift with love is the most precious of sentiments; and, you don't have to be a magi to give a gift that matters.

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