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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Explain the characters of Jim and Della in O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi".

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In O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi", Della Young is a caring, emotional woman who is deeply in love with her husband, Jim. Despite their poverty, she is determined to buy Jim the perfect Christmas gift, even if it means selling her beautiful, knee-length hair. Jim, formally known as James Dillingham Young, is a hardworking man of 22. His most cherished possession is a watch passed down through his family. He is described as quiet, valuable, and serious. In a twist of irony, both Della and Jim sell their most prized possessions to buy gifts for each other, demonstrating their deep, selfless love.

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The perfect couple—O. Henry created a real love story with a twist in “The Gift of the Magi.” The setting is New York City in the early 1900s. The Young apartment is the specific setting.  Finding the perfect gift is at the center of the story.

Della

Della Young has a  problem.  It is Christmas Eve, and she does not have a gift for her wonderful husband Jim. She wants to give Jim the perfect gift which Della has been saving for several weeks to get the $1.87 that she does have.  Her husband’s salary does not go far, and she is worried sick. Della unashamedly deals hard bargains with the grocer and the butcher, so that she can have a few extra cents at the end of the week.

Della loves her husband.  The characterization of Della would include a rather emotional young woman.  She sits down and has a good cry because she does not know how to get the needed money for her present.  Apparently, she does not have anyone with which to talk things over.  

The Young’s apartment is rather shabby and old.  It makes no difference to Della because she shares her home with Jim. Their furniture and clothes indicate that they are not impoverished, but close to it. 

Della is an attractive, slender young woman.  Her crowning glory was her beautiful long hair.  It falls below her knees when she lets it down.

So now Della's beautiful hair fell about her, rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. A Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.

As Della looks out the window, she comes to a difficult decision.  She will sell her hair to buy the gift for her husband.  The strength that this decision took comes from the love that Jim had for her beautiful hair.  Della does not know what Jim’s reaction will be.

She sells the hair and buys a watch fob to hold her husband’s watch. Her one worry now is that Jim will still think that she is pretty without her hair. 

Jim

Less information is given in the story about Jim.  His full name is James Dillingham Young. He is twenty –two years old. He works hard and brings home $20.00 per week. His one grand possession was a watch that had been passed through the men in his family. 

Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

His watch gave Jim joy.

Della describes Jim as quiet but valuable.  Like Della, he is thin but handsome.  His clothes were somewhat ragged like Della’s old coat.  Jim seemed serious most of the time. 

Jim was never late; however, on this night, he comes home a little tardy.  Jim reacts strangely to Della’s hair cut. He does tell her that nothing could ever change his love for her.

When the two exchange their gifts and discover that each had sacrificed their most precious possession, they each laugh and decide to put the gifts away until the hair grows back and the watch could be recovered. 

Their gifts were perfect because each gave from their hearts which is the only true gift

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How would you describe Jim and Della's relationship in "The Gift of the Magi"?

There is no evidence in the text to suggest that the relationship between Jim and Della, in O. Henry's short story "The Gift of the Magi," is anything but an ardent love between two very devoted and charming young people.

After all, they each sell their most prized material possessions in order to express their love. Della sells her beautiful hair to buy Jim a watch chain and Jim sells his watch to buy Della tortoise shell combs for her hair. While the story is ultimately ironic it is also a comment on the adoration which exists between the young couple. 

True expressions of love are usually marked by selfless consideration for the loved one. We might think of the ultimate sacrifice made by Romeo and Juliet as the consummate statement of love. The story is named as it is because the Magi came to bring presents to the baby Jesus. The Magi were said to be "wise men." O. Henry comments at the end of the story that even though Jim and Della may have been impetuous, their gifts of love were ultimately "wise." O. Henry ends his story by saying,

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.  

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In "The Gift of the Magi," how are Jim and Della the Magi in this story?

In "The Gift of the Magi," Jim and Della are representative of the Magi. The Magi are the three kings that visited the Christ child and gave the ultimate gifts as far as giving is concerned. 

Jim and Della are considered the Magi because they gave each other the ultimate gift. Della sold her most prized possession--her hair--to buy Jim a platinum chain for his watch. Jim sold his most prized possession--his watch--to buy Della precious combs for her beautiful, long hair. 

In this type of giving, the author considers Jim and Della the Magi. They made the ultimate sacrifice one for the other. No one has given more. Jim and Della are considered the Magi because they sacrificed their most prized possessions one for the other. 

Della planned to make her gift worthy of someone like Jim:

 "Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling—something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honour of being owned by Jim."

Selling her hair is the ultimate sacrifice. Jim loved Della's long hair. Della parted with her hair in order to give Jim a worthy gift. This giving compares to the giving of the Magi to the Christ child. No greater giving is recorded. 

Jim values his wife more than he values his watch. His love for his wife goes beyond materialism. Jim clearly values his young wife more than his gold watch. He sells his watch to buy her a set of beautiful, jewel-edged tortoiseshell combs for her long hair.

Jim honors his wife above his own happiness. He gives the ultimate gift when he sells his watch to buy her the combs for her beautiful hair. As the author states, Jim and Della are the Magi:

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. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

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What do we learn about Jim and Della in the first five paragraphs of "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry?

In the first paragraph, readers learn that the couple lives very frugally and that Della has been saving pennies from their food budget in advance of Christmas.

The second paragraph reveals that the couple lives in a furnished rented room and that Della is distraught about their financial situation.

In the third paragraph, readers learn that Jim has had his pay reduced from $30 a week to $20 a week, and that there is a lot of love shared between the couple.

The remainder of the story's opening paragraphs focus on Della's sorrow that despite her assiduous saving, she has only $1.87 with which to buy her beloved husband a Christmas gift.

These paragraphs create an exposition that help the reader understand the couple's dire financial straits and love for one another, which makes their later sacrifices plausible.

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What do we learn about Jim and Della in the first five paragraphs of "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry?

The married couple Della and Jim live meagerly with few possessions in a furnished apartment. Jim makes $20 a week at a job where he used to make $30. When Jim was making $30 a week, the couple placed a name card on their mailbox which read "Mr. James Dillingham Young." Now that he makes less, the middle name Dillingham looks blurred (in an example of personification, the letters themselves are contemplating contracting to a simple D. because of Jim's pay cut). With Christmas approaching, Della is trying to save money for a gift, but has accumulated only one dollar and eighty-seven cents. Sixty cents of this money has been garnered through "close dealing" with the grocer, vegetable man, and butcher. This bargaining causes Della's cheeks to burn over the idea that she has to be so stingy with her money. She counts the money three times and finally breaks down and cries on her "shabby little couch."

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How would you describe and analyze the love between Jim and Della in "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry?

The primary way Della and Jim show love for one another is through sacrifice. Della sacrifices her long, beautiful hair to get enough money to buy a special gift for Jim. Meanwhile, Jim sacrifices his family heirloom pocket watch to get enough money to buy a special gift for Della. Each one "sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house."

Before Della has the idea to sell her hair to get money for Jim's gift, she was filled with disappointment. She cries because she only had $1.87 to spend on her husband's present. She wants to buy Jim a special Christmas gift and is sad and disappointed when she does not have enough money to do so.

Other evidence of their love is in the story. At the beginning, O. Henry wrote that, despite their financial difficulties, Jim was "greatly hugged" by Della each day when he returns home from work. After Della gets home from buying the gift for Jim, she looks in the mirror and begins to regret her decision to cut her hair. Jim loves Della's long hair, which was capable of "rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters." She worries Jim will no longer find her pretty. When he arrives home, Jim reassures Della that no "haircut or a shave or a shampoo... could make [him] like [his] girl any less." Della realizes Jim loves her and thinks she is pretty even without her long hair.

Della and Jim each sacrifice something precious to give a gift as an expression of love. O. Henry shows their love through their willingness to sacrifice.

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How does O. Henry define Jim and Della's characters in "The Gift of the Magi"?

We are given better definitions of these characters from their setting and surroundings. Right away, we realize that Jim and Della are leading a rather meager existence, as their home is not lavish, and their words and actions are those that are typically associated with financial struggle.

Even with the state of near-poverty that they are living in, however, Jim and Della both find it within their hearts to sacrifice what is dearest to them for the sake of the other person's happiness -- Della sells her hair, Jim sells his watch, and ironically, the gift that each receives has to do with the very thing they sold for the other person's pleasure (Della gets combs, Jim gets a watch chain). Through the settings, characterizations, and plot of this story, we are shown the true nature of both Jim and Della.

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How does O. Henry define Jim and Della's characters in "The Gift of the Magi"?

Both of them are self-sacrificing and selfless.  Della gives up her beautiful hair (which is alluded to as hair that the Queen of Sheba would envy).  He gives up his most prized possession (his golden watch--which would have been envied by King Solomon) to buy something for her.  Both characters have the same qualities.  Both are willing to give up their most prize possessions to make the other happy.  Their love is so strong that their possessions don't mean as much as giving the other person joy.  O. Henry defines them by their selfless actions.

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