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

Start Free Trial

What does Della do to buy a Christmas gift for her husband in "The Gift of the Magi"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

At the start of "The Gift of the Magi," Della has only saved $1.87 to buy her husband, Jim a Christmas gift, as they live frugally on a small income. Her husband owns a gold watch that is his most prized possession, and in order to buy him a platinum fob chain, she sells her hair, which is described as "a cascade of brown waters." Her hair is so long that it reaches past her knees. She sells it to a woman named Madame Sofronie for $20. Unbeknownst to Della, Jim has meanwhile sold his prize gold watch to purchase a set of tortoiseshell hair combs with jeweled rims that Della could wear in her beautiful tresses. In essence, Della sacrifices what means that most to her to buy her husband a Christmas gift, just as he sacrifices what means the most to him to buy her a gift.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This is a good question. Della cuts and sells her hair to get money to buy her husband a chain for his watch. Della does this ultimately because she loves Jim, her husband. Within the context, Della also does this because they are a very poor couple. She has been frugal all year long in saving money, but even with her extremely frugal ways, she has little money. So, she decides to sell her most prized possession to get something nice for her husband. So, she cuts her hair.

The irony of the story is that Jim sells his most prized possession as well, namely, his watch, and he buys combs for Della's hair, which now she cannot use.

The story is an example of sacrificial love.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What does Della buy in "The Gift of the Magi"?

In O. Henry’s short story, “The Gift of the Magi,” Della buys her husband, Jim, a “platinum fob chain” to go with his pocket watch. 

In this story, we are told that Jim Young (James Dillingham Young) has one possession of which he is very proud.  This possession

was Jim's gold watch that had been his father's and his grandfather's.

In the days when this story is set, people did not wear wrist watches.  Instead, men had pocket watches that they carried in their pockets.  The fob chain attached to the watch and was secured in a different pocket than the one in which the watch was carried (please read the annotations in the link below to see an excellent discussion of the importance of fob chains for men who owned pocket watches).  The fob chain would ensure that the watch would not fall on the ground and break if the owner accidentally dropped it.

Della buys the platinum fob chain for Jim because it is something that he would love to have.  She sacrifices her own prized possession (her hair) in order to do so.  In doing this, she is demonstrating how much she loves her husband.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the short story "The Gift of the Magi," what does Della do to get money for Jim's present?

In the short story “The Gift of the Magi", it was Christmas time, and Della wanted desperately to get a special Christmas gift for her husband, Jim.  She had saved her pennies and scrounged together $1.87.  She needed a lot more.  What did she have to sell?

“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.  (pg 1)

The only thing of value Della had to sell was her hair. 

“It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her.” (pg 1)

So, she went to a Mne. Sofronie, who dealt in hair goods, and asked how much the woman would pay for her hair. She was offered twenty dollars.  She accepted the offer and immediately went out and bought Jim a beautiful chain to attach to his watch.  It cost her twenty-one dollars, but she knew he would love it. However, she hoped her husband would not find her ugly now because she no longer had her beautiful hair.

O’Henry, the author, wrote irony.  The ironic part of this story is that she sacrificed her hair to buy Jim a chain for his watch, and he sold his watch to buy her some beautiful combs for her long hair.

Posted on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What does Della plan in the story "The Gift of the Magi"?

In O. Henry's short story "The Gift of the Magi," Della plans on purchasing a Christmas gift for her husband Jim. Unfortunately, the couple's financial circumstances haven't left them in a place to be able to afford the extravagance of exchanging presents.

Della had tried to save money for this purpose as best she could by putting away a cent at a time when she was purchasing their groceries; however, this technique only left her with one dollar and eighty-seven cents. 

Thus, in an act of self-sacrifice and love, Della decides to sell her most prized possession: her hair. She lets Mrs. Sofronie cut it all off in exchange for twenty dollars, and she uses the money to purchase a gold watch chain for Jim.

The irony of this, of course, is that we shortly thereafter learn that Jim has sold his own most prized possession--his watch--in order to afford a set of beautiful combs for Della's hair. Although the couple's presents are ultimately useless, they are an incredible testament to their selflessness.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What does Della plan in the story "The Gift of the Magi"?

Della's problem in the story is raising the money she needs to purchase a suitable Christmas present for Jim.

The first step in her plan involves saving as much money as possible from the amount budgeted for household expenses. She manages to save $1.87 "by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned."  This amount, however, would never be adequate, and so she needs to develop another step to her savings plan.

This is accomplished as Della takes action to raise funds by selling the one possession she has that would be worth the appropriate amount of money - her hair. Della decides to sacrifice this fabulous asset in order to achieve the goal of raising money for Jim's present.

she did it up again...Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed...With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs...Will you buy my hair?

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on