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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What lesson did Jim and Della learn at the end of "The Gift of the Magi"?

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"The Gift of the Magi" tells a humorously ironic story of sacrifice and love. Jim and Della are incredibly preoccupied with giving each other beautiful gifts that will reflect their love at Christmastime. However, both are very short on money. Both lovers make sacrifices to afford their gifts; Della purchases Jim a chain for his pocket watch, while Jim purchases Della a set of ornate combs for her remarkably beautiful hair.

The irony lies in what they purchased with their sacrifices: Jim sold his pocket watch for the combs, and Della sold her hair for the chain. This turn of events renders both gifts effectively useless. Jim and Della, however, both realize that they have a beautiful and uniquely priceless love for each other when they see the lengths to which one partner will go to make the other happy.

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Jim and Della want to give each other special gifts for Christmas as expressions of their love. Della buys Jim a gold chain for his pocket watch, and Jim buys Della a set of fancy combs for her beautiful hair. Unfortunately, because Jim and Della don't have much money, they have to make sacrifices to buy their gifts: Jim sells his watch while Della sells some of her pretty locks to a fancy hair salon.

The upshot is that Della and Jim end up with worthless gifts. However, they also learn what's really important in life. They learn that it's the spirit of love in which gifts are given that matters and not the gifts themselves. It is for this reason that the narrator describes them as being wise, just like the Magi or wise men who presented the baby Jesus with gifts on that first Christmas Day.

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