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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As the narrator explains at the end of "The Gift of the Magi," the Magi were the "wonderfully wise men" who brought gifts to the infant Jesus at his birth. Because of these gifts, the narrator says, we all traditionally give gifts at Christmas time, just as Jim and Della do.

The gifts that Jim and Della give each other seem foolish at first. Jim giving Della the costly comb and brush set after she has sold her hair seems pointless. It also seems pointless for Della to have bought Jim a watch chain after he sells his gold watch. Neither of them know that, from a practical standpoint, they are making a pointless purchase at the time.

The narrator, however, says that these gifts are wise, not foolish—the wisest gifts of all. Jim and Della are the Magi of this story, because of their wise gift-giving.

The narrator, however, does not explain why the gifts are wise. The reader, having read the story, can understand the reason. It is because the gifts are given with love. Because of the sacrifices they each make, Jim and Della show that they love the other person more than themselves. Being able to express love, the story says, through a gift counts more than the gift itself.

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The Magi are the the wise men from the East who in the traditional story of Jesus birth came bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The use of the word magi is a biblical allusion to these men because they brought gifts appropriate for a promised king. When they arrived, the found Jesus wrapped in cloths, lying in a manger, and born in a stable. These were certainly conditions for a most impoverished person.

These magi are significant because they help create many parallels to the story of Jim and Della. Both Jim and Della sacrifice something most important to themselves to give the other a gift of great significance and honor. The concepts of sacrifice and appropriateness are both relevant in the Jesus story and the story of Jim and Della.

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