Why are Jim and Della said to be the Magi in "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry? Who evolved the art of giving presents at Christmas ?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry, the characters are a young married couple: Della and Jim. They have little materialistically.  Their apartment costs more than they can afford and looks shabby to observers.  Della’s and Jim’s clothes need repair or replacement. They have little extra money. 

The time of the year is Christmas.  Both characters love each other without reservation. They have tried to save to buy each other the perfect gift.  Neither has been successful. As the story starts, it is Christmas Eve; and Della is worried sick about what to do to get Jim the perfect present.

Her decision is to the sell her beautiful hair to get the money to buy Jim’s present. She has decided to buy Jim a rather expensive watch fob to carry his most valued possession which is his pocket watch.  The one concern she has about selling her hair is that Jim will not think that she is pretty.  The deed is done, and the watch is purchased.

Jim comes in a little late that night.  Della is waiting with a good supper and her warm pair of arms. When Jim looks at Delia, it is obvious that he is quite surprised.  He reassures her that he was just surprised, and nothing could make him think that she was not pretty.

The time comes for opening the gifts.  Della opens hers and discovers that it is a set of beautiful hair combs to hold her long hair which she sold to buy the gift for Jim.  Jim opens his gift and admires the beauty of the watch fob.  She asks him to put his watch on it and see how it looks.  He says that it will have to wait because he sold his watch to buy her the combs for her hair.  The most important thing that they both possess is their mutual love for each other.

And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

The couple is compared to the Magi, three kings, or wise men who went in search of the baby Jesus by following the star.  They also brought him valuable gifts to acknowledge the birth of the Messiah.

The idea of giving gifts stems from these gifts which they laid at the feet of the newborn baby.  The author through his beautiful story reminds people about the purpose of the gift giving.  It is not the receiving of the gifts that is the important part of the tradition. It is the giving unselfishly with love to the person that receives the gift.  Both Della and Jim epitomize this idea.  Each one was willing to give the most important asset that she/her owned to make the other happy: that is the true spirit of the Magi.

sesh | Student

Jim and Della, in O.Henry's short story are considered as the magi (in the Bible- The “wise men” from the East who brought gifts to the infant Jesus) in the art of giving christmas presents.

Jim and Della are a married couple who live in a moderate flat with less money. The only valuable possesion they each have is, Della's long hair and Jim's gold watch. In christmas they want to make each other happy. Della buys a valuable fob chain for jim's watch, amd jim, a valuable set of combs for Della's beautiful long hair. Della seels her hair to buy the gift, Jim; his gold watch. Ultimatly they realize their gifts are of no use, but the value of their love and willingness for sacrification is far beyond materialistic desires. The story ends with the narrator comparing the pair's mutually sacrificial gifts of love with those of the bibllical Magi because it conveys the idea how priceless thier love is. gifts should not be measured by value, but intention.