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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Discussion Topic

"The Gift of the Magi" and the role of fate in disrupting the characters' cherished plans

Summary:

In "The Gift of the Magi," fate plays a significant role in disrupting the characters' cherished plans. Despite Della and Jim's selfless intentions to buy each other meaningful gifts, fate intervenes as they unknowingly render their gifts useless. This twist underscores the story's theme that the true value of their actions lies in their love and sacrifice, not in material possessions.

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How does "The Gift of the Magi" depict fate disrupting cherished plans through our actions?

Della's most cherished desire is to purchase a Christmas present for Jim that is "just a little bit near to being worthy of the honour of being owned by Jim." She has endeavored to save her extra money for this purchase but has not been able to raise an adequate amount. She solves the dilemna by selling her beautiful long hair and using the proceeds to purchase a platinum chain and fob for Jim's treasured family heirloom pocket watch.

Jim, in his mission to purchase something that will represent his love for Della, has sold the watch in order to have the funds to purchase an exquisite set of tortoise shell hair combs that Della has longed to be able to wear in her fabulous knee-length hair.

Each unknowingly sold the possession that was to be complimented and highlighted by the present purchased by the other, upsetting the secret plans to demonstrate depth of love through recognition of the material item most treasured by the recipient. Their fate, at that point in their lives, was to give each other deep and abiding love, unadorned by material things.

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Justify the quote "Sometimes fate seems to upset our most cherished plan through our own actions" with reference to "The Gift of the Magi," discussing how how Jim and Della sacrifice their most treasured possesions. 

The story “The Gift of the Magi” is an ironic tale of a young couple who buy each other gifts they cannot afford, sacrificing to do so.  The sacrifice turns out to be in vain, because they each gave up something important in order to buy the gift.

The plan that is upset, on each of their parts, is the Christmas gift.  Each assumes that the other will cherish the gift.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride.  One was Jim's gold watch that had been his father's and his grandfather's. The other was Della's hair. (enotes etext pdf p. 3)

The ironic part is that Della decides to sell the hair to get the watch.  Fate intervenes, because James sells the watch to buy a comb for her hair.  Thus both end up with useless gifts.

Though “Delia has never asked for the combs that Jim buys her, but clearly he has seen her face when she has passed the combs in the shop window and has decided that his wife, and his love for her, are more important than his precious keepsake” (enotes, themes).  Thus, ironically again, fate intervenes by using the gift exchange to demonstrate their true wealth and love for each other.

For the full text: http://www.enotes.com/gift-magi-text

To read more about this story: http://www.enotes.com/gift-magi/summary

To read more about themes: http://www.enotes.com/gift-magi/themes

Citations:

Henry, O. "The Gift of the Magi." Enotes.com. Enotes.com. Web. 09 May 2012. <http://www.enotes.com/gift-magi-text>.

"The Gift of the Magi." Enotes.com. Enotes.com. Web. 09 May 2012. <http://www.enotes.com/gift-magi/themes>.

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Regarding "The Gift of the Magi," comment on this remark: "Sometimes fate seems to upset our most cherished plans through our own actions."

In O. Henry's story, "The Gift of the Magi," Della bemoans the fact that she has only one dollar and eighty-seven cents with which to purchase a Christmas present for her beloved husband.  But, she suddenly has the idea that if she sells her hair, she will have enough money with which to buy the a watch chain for her Jim.  This is her cherished plan, one that she holds dear since it is the only way that she can procure enough money for the watch fob.

So, she goes to Madame Sofronie's and sells her hair; takes the twenty dollars and buys Jim a beautiful watch chain.  However, as fate would have it, Jim has sold his watch because he, too, had not enought money with which to buy his beloved Della the lovely hair combs he had seen in a shop.  Indeed, through the actions of Della and Jim fate "upsets their cherished plans" of delighting one another with lovely gifts.  Yet, of course, they received greater gifts, the affirmation of one another's unselfish love.

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Regarding "The Gift of the Magi," comment on this remark: "Sometimes fate seems to upset our most cherished plans through our own actions."

I assume that you are asking how this story proves this quote.

In the story, Jim and Della do not upset their most cherished plans through their own actions.  What they do is very similar, though.  They upset each other's most cherished plans.

In the story, each member of the young couple wants to do something very nice for the other.  So they both sell off their most treasured possessions in order to be able to do that.

But they upset each other's plans.  They both buy something that was meant to complement the possession that the other sold.

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Does fate upset the characters' plans in "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry?

If you know the basic contours of the short story, I would say that fate does not upset cherished plans. In fact, this is the very point that O. Henry is making. 

On the surface, it seems like nothing goes correctly for Jim and Della. They are poor and even their attempts to get gifts for each other is foiled. Jim sells his watch to buy Della combs, and Della cuts her hair to buy Jim a chain for this watch. Fate seems to laugh at them! However, if we look at the deeper meaning of the short story, there is something surprising and beautiful. 

Both Jim and Della give what they cherish for the sake of the other person. This act of self-sacrifice is what makes them wise. 

The point is giving is more important than receiving. When we have this perspective, then fate does not upset anything. Here is how the story ends:

"The magi, as you know, were wise men--wonderfully wise men--who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. 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."

There is no sense of loss. 

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