Why does the writer call Della and Jim foolish and wise at the same time in "The Gift of the Magi"?

In "The Gift of the Magi," the writer calls Della and Jim foolish and wise at the same time because while they have both sold their most valuable possessions to buy each other gifts which prove useless, they have shown their immense love for each other.

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The writer calls Della and Jim foolish and wise at the same time in “The Gift of the Magi” because, although they were foolish in giving each other useless gifts, they were also motivated by love, which shows them to be wise.

In that sense, they both understand...

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The writer calls Della and Jim foolish and wise at the same time in “The Gift of the Magi” because, although they were foolish in giving each other useless gifts, they were also motivated by love, which shows them to be wise.

In that sense, they both understand the true meaning of Christmas, just like the Magi, or three wise men who traveled to Bethlehem to bestow gifts upon the baby Jesus. Many people at the time probably thought that they were being foolish in giving gifts that were functionally useless for the recipient.

Della buys Jim a gold chain to go with his watch. But without any money, she can only buy the gift by selling off some of her beautiful locks of hair.

Meanwhile, Jim sells his watch to buy Della a set of fancy combs for the beautiful hair she's just sold. So both Jim and Della have ended up giving each other useless gifts. It is in that sense that they are foolish.

And yet, they are also wise, because they understand that the true worth of a gift lies in the thought behind it. When it comes to giving gifts, it's always the thought that counts, and it's Jim and Della's realization of this that makes them truly wise.

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The answer to your question is found in the last paragraph of this great story. O. Henry explains that Jim and Della's lack of wisdom lies in each of them selling their prized possession in order to buy a gift for their spouse. He goes on, however, to say that they are the wisest of all gift givers. I would argue that it is implied that since each spouse makes a sacrifice to procure their spouse's gift, their ultimate gift to each other is love. Since love is far greater than any physical gift, Jim and Della are deemed wise in spite of their foolishness.

Della did not know that Jim was selling his watch to buy combs for her hair, so she sold her hair to buy him a watch fob. The foolishness of the situation arises from the fact that after the exchange of gifts, Della has pretty hair clips but no long hair, and Jim has a watch fob but no watch. Rather than being upset at this turn of events, Jim wisely suggests that the couple put their gifts aside and enjoy their dinner.

In a nutshell, they are foolish because they each sold their most valuable possession to buy their spouse a gift that ends up being useless. Since these gifts were given in the spirit of love, however, they are "the wise ones."

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In the final paragraph, the narrator says that Jim and Della "were not wise."  A few lines later, he says that, "Of all who give gifts, these two were the most wise."  This paradox, I think, has to do with who is doing the judging, who is perceiving Jim and Della.  From society's perspective, from a materialist perspective, their actions may not be very wise: they each sacrificed the most valuable and precious thing they owned so that they would be able to purchase a gift for the other.  It goes against common sense, perhaps, to sell one's most precious thing in order to buy a present for someone else.  Further, it could be argued that when one loves, one need not buy a gift to show it; it isn't wise to think that love can best show itself with a present.  

However, from a different perspective, the fact that Jim and Della were willing to sacrifice their most precious belongings in order that they could do something kind for the other one makes them very wise.  The love they feel for one another is so strong that it trumps any selfish desire to hold on to the objects they value.  They see that their material possessions are of less value than their love, and so they are willing to sacrifice them.  This ordering of values is certainly very wise.

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Jim and Della are wise because of their reaction to finding out their spouse could not appreciate their gift.  They are foolish because each sold his sentimentally valuable possession for one with monetary value.

James sells his watch to buy a set of combs for Della’s hair, and Della sells her hair to buy a chain for Jim’s watch.   Both gifts end up being meaningless, but the couple appreciates the thought.

The narrator compares the young couple to the Magi, who brought gifts to baby Jesus.

Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. (p. 6)

The implication is that the gift-givers in the story are wise in their own way, because they were giving to someone they loved.  Because Jim and Della “most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house” (p. 6), they demonstrated their love to each other.  That was the way they were wise.

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Set at Christmastime, the story tells of a young couple so wrapped up in their love for each other that they sacrifice something of value to get the other person the perfect gift. Because the primary function that O’Henry assigns to them is gift-givers, they are like the Magi, who express their praise and love through gifts. Jim and Della’s generosity makes them wise: "Of all who give gifts, these two were the most wise," the author tells us.

But the love they felt for each other was really enough. The actual, tangible objects were superfluous. The hard times they were living through would be temporary, but their love would endure. Giving up valuable material goods, or even a part of her own physical being in the case of Della’s hair, was not necessary. They indulged in the foolishness of overspending because they were blinded by love, feeling that objects were valid expressions of emotion, when really the emotion itself was more than sufficient.

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He calls them foolish because in the act of giving their gifts, the couple rendered their respective gifts useless. Neither Jim nor Della could really use what the other had given, because in the process of gift exchange, they removed one another's "targets." He calls them wise because they gave from the depths of their hearts, without counting the cost, and gave the things that mattered most to them.

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