illustration of two people, a woman and a man, looking at one another in profile with an ornate hair comb between them

The Gift of the Magi

by O. Henry

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Why is "The Gift of the Magi" an interesting story?

"The Gift of the Magi" is an interesting story because the unexpected ending reminds us that even the best of intentions can sometimes fall short.

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There are several elements that make a story interesting.  These may vary from person to person.  However, “The Gift of the Magi” has been a well-loved story for generations.  A lot of people must find it interesting!  I’d suggest there are two main reasons.  First, it uses irony.  Second, it has a meaningful theme.

Irony is when something happens in a story that you don’t expect.  In this case, the young husband and wife each buy each other a gift that they can’t use.  What makes this ironic is that each one gives up something he or she appreciates in order to get something nice for the other one.  Jim sells his gold watch to buy Delilah a new set of combs for her hair.  Delilah sells her hair to buy Jim a watch chain. The new gifts are useless, because they can only be used with the possessions they sold.  The irony is unexpected and helps make the story interesting.

Another reason the story is interesting is because it has meaningful themes, or messages.  People find stories more interesting when they can make personal connections to them.  There are many themes you could take from this story.  One theme is that love is more valuable than property.  They love each other, and that matters more than their most valued possessions.  They don’t realize this until the end.  Another theme might be that giving is more important than receiving, or that a gift is more valuable when it comes from sacrifice.


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"The Gift of the Magi" is so compelling because the ending is so unexpected. The main characters live in poverty and go to great lengths to try to do something kind for each other at Christmas. This has a familiar feeling; as readers, we immediately begin to root for these characters because of their good intentions.

Della's sacrifice is great. She realizes that her hair is "more beautiful than any queen's jewels and gifts." Jim is equally fortunate to own a valuable watch even in the midst of poverty, knowing that "no king had anything so valuable."

This couple desperately wants to make the holiday special, which is a feeling that almost all readers can empathize with: wanting desperately to afford a nice gift that is outside of the budget. Readers want (and expect) that this great sacrifice will end well for at least one of them.

The story is thus interesting because it is a reminder that gifts alone do not convey love to the people closest to us. At the end of the story, Della owns combs but has no hair to put them in; her husband has a gold watch chain but no watch to put it on. They each have the greatest and most noble of intentions, but those efforts fall shockingly short of bringing joy to their spouse.

Though the sacrifices they make show a great love, in the end, their efforts leave them with foolish trinkets that they cannot even use. This unexpected ending captivates us because we are reminded that gifts are not the true way to convey love.

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