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 setting and historical context of "The Gift of the Magi."

Summary:

The setting of "The Gift of the Magi" is a modest apartment in New York City during the early 20th century. The historical context reflects the economic struggles of the time, highlighting themes of love and sacrifice amid financial hardship, which were common experiences for many Americans during this period.

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What is the setting of "The Gift of the Magi"?

The story takes place in New York during the Christmas holiday season.  Della and Jim, the couple who are the main characters in the short story, live in a tiny but well-kept apartment.  It is sparsely furnished due to the couple's meager income.  One also gets an idea that the apartment is a little cool since the weather in New York is often cold at that time of year.  From the setting, the reader gets an idea that Della and Jim are industrious people who just happen to be poor--one gets this idea from the statement that the apartment was tidy.  The setting makes the reader appreciate the generosity of Della and Jim who give so selflessly when in reality neither has much to offer in the way of material possessions.  

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What is the setting of "The Gift of the Magi"?

This lovely short story takes place in the apartment of the two main characters, Della and Jim. Their apartment is small, with only two windows and the looking glass (mirror) mentioned. The narrator actually states, "Furnished rooms at a cost of $8 a week. There is little more to say about it." Other than that, the only other detail we get about the apartment is that even their mailbox is very small.

Really, the physical setting is not that important. What's more important about the setting is the time, which is Christmas Eve. This is necessary because it shows us the desperation that these two have when it comes to buying a gift for one another - they've saved until, literally, the last minute. Now's the time to buy the gift, and they're each still short. This is why Della sells her beautiful hair and Jim sells his precious watch. 

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What is the setting of "The Gift of the Magi"?

The story takes place in New York. O'Henry describes the apartment where Jim and Delia live in great detail in order for the reader to understand the great sacrifices Delia and Jim are making when they sell their most prized possessions. The details of their apartment also give the setting a more realistic feeling, so that we can identify with the characters.

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What is the setting of "The Gift of the Magi"?

The story primarily takes place in the couple's apartment. It is described as being a meager place that they live, but clean and well-kept. Della works hard to make sure that what they do have is nice. There is a small mirror between two window in which Della can look to make sure she looks nice for Jim. It is upstairs and their mailbox, which is small for even the smallest amount of mail is downstairs. 

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What is the setting of "The Gift of the Magi"?

O. Henry generally used one of five settings which were the American South, New York, the West, prison, or Central America. For The Gift of the Magi, he chose to set this story in New York.

He paid particular attention to the setting of Jim and Delia's immediate surroundings. Their poverty -stricken apartment that was furnished sparely and with tattered and worn furnishings, as well as the barren and lonely yard. The description of their isolated and poor setting adds to the mood that O. Henry wanted to create.

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Describe the setting of "The Gift of the Magi."

We are not told exactly when or where the story takes place.  However, we can do know that it is not set anywhere it the distant past or future relative to the date that O. Henry wrote it (which was 1906).  We can get some clues about this from the story.

Mostly, we can tell from the technology and the money values and (for those who know about such things) the language used that this is somewhere around the turn of the century.  The two of them have an apartment with an electric buzzer, so there is electricity.  But Della has to use gas to heat her curling irons.  The apartment costs $8 per month.  All of that tells us about when the story is set.

The eNotes summary says it is presumed to be set in New York.  This is because of the reference to Coney Island and because Della saw the combs in a shop on Broadway.

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What details in paragraphs 19-25 indicate the historical setting of "The Gift of the Magi"?

Paragraph breaks can vary slightly depending on the publisher, which is important to note. My version of this story begins paragraph 19 with the words "She found it at last...."

In this paragraph, Della decides to purchase a platinum fob chain. This isn't a term we hear much in modern society. A fob chain is a chain attached to a pocket watch and which hangs outside the pocket where the watch is kept. This paragraph also mentions "The Watch," which is Jim's pocket watch that he currently secures with a piece of cheap leather because of their finances.

Pocket watches were much more common prior to World War I and the invention of the wrist watch. Della is able to purchase this platinum fob chain for twenty-one dollars, which is another indication of time setting. A platinum chain in today's society could easily cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

When Della gets home, she takes out her "curling irons and light[s] the gas and [goes] to work repairing" her haircut. In the late 1800s, women used hair curlers which were heated up by being held over gas burners. Although her hair is now quite short, it takes her forty minutes to produced the desired curls. The length of this process and the method Della uses to style her hair points to a setting that is not within the last one hundred years.

In these paragraphs, Della is also worried that Jim will think she looks like a "Coney Island chorus girl." The chorus girls of Coney Island were performers—and not the type that could be found on Broadway. Della is worried that Jim will find her cheap and crass because of her short hairstyle. This points to a setting that precedes the Flapper movement during the Jazz Age in America, when women boldly and proudly cut their hair short.

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What is the setting of "The Gift of the Magi"?

This question is asking about setting. The general time of the story is December 24th. Readers are told in the first paragraph that the next day would be Christmas, and that is why Della is so disappointed in the small amount of money that she has to buy Jim a Christmas present with. Readers are not given a specific year, but based on Jim's weekly wage and the monthly rent for the apartment, the story is likely taking place around 1900. That makes sense based on the 1905 publication date. We know that the apartment has to be in a fairly large city because of Della's proximity to the hair shop and multiple watch shops.

There was no other like it in any of the shops, and she had looked in every shop in the city.

If I had to hazard a guess, I think the city is New York. Della's Coney Island comment would support that; however, she could be referencing something from her childhood while they happen to currently live in Chicago.

"If Jim doesn't kill me," she said to herself, "before he takes a second look at me, he'll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do—oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty- seven cents?"

Other than Della's shopping trip, the story takes place in their small, barely furnished apartment.

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What is the setting of "The Gift of the Magi"?

The Gift of the Magi is a short story written by William Sydney Porter, who went by the pen name of O. Henry. It is a story of love, difficult economic times, and the true meaning of the gift-giving of Christmas. It is believed to have been written in a tavern in New York City in 1905.

While the setting is not overtly revealed in the story itself, there are clues that suggest it takes place in New York City on Christmas Eve during the Early Twentieth Century. The fact that it is December 24th is stated at the start of the short story. The prices of the items in the story, and because it was written in 1905, reveals it takes place in the early 1900s. As for the location, it can be inferred that the story takes place in New York City when Della Dillingham suggests that her husband will think that she looks like a "Coney Island choir girl."

Setting of the Story: Christmas Eve, 1905 in New York City.

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What time period does "The Gift of the Magi" occur in?

"The Gift of the Magi" was first published on December 10, 1905, just in time for Christmas. It was written shortly before that. It is set in the world which O'Henry knew: New York City, near or slightly after the turn of the twentieth century.

O'Henry is actually very precise about money in the tale, and the prices would have meant far more to people reading at the time than they do now. In fact, the opening line of the story tells us exactly how much money Della has saved for a Christmas gift for Jim, as of Christmas Eve: $1.87. We even learn that this amount includes sixty pennies that Della has painstakingly saved. We find out too that the flat they rent costs $8.00 a week.

We would have to use an inflation calculator to understand what these figures mean in today's money: the money Della saved hoping to get Jim something very fine and special comes to about $48.00 and the rent the couple pays is about $205.00 a week.

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What time period does "The Gift of the Magi" occur in?

The Gift of the Magi is set in the same time period it was written which is the early 1900s. The link below will take you to a summary of O. Henry's career and the story. The summary mentions the fact that the short stories has been included in many anthologies throughout the years, but I remember when it was adapted to Sesame Street.  Bert and Ernie were part of a Christmas special on TV in the 1970s or 1980s where the same story unfolds except for the gifts that are sacrificed and exchanged.  Bert sells his paper clip collection to buy Ernie a soap dish for his Rubber Duckie and Ernies sells his Rubber Ducky for a box to hold Bert's paper clips. 

I think the wife in O. Henry's original sacrifices the most since she cut and sold her hair.  To a woman that would be so embarrassing especially in the early 1900s when women were supposed to look and act feminine or they were socially rejected.

Follow the link for more information on the story. :)

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