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 is the irony at the end of "The Gift of the Magi"?

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There are two kinds of irony present in "The Gift of the Magi," dramatic irony and situational irony. Dramatic irony is created when the audience knows what Jim doesn't yet, which is that his wife, Della, has sold her hair to buy him a Christmas gift. Situational irony is created by the fact that Jim has also sold his most prized possession, a family heirloom, in order to buy her a beautiful set of combs for the hair she no longer has.

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The irony of the ending of "The Gift of the Magi" is the fact that both Della and Jim unselfishly sacrificed their most prized possessions in order to purchase gifts that the other would be thrilled about receiving, but each of them sacrificed the very thing for which the other bought the gift. So, neither can use his/her Christmas present.

After counting her money--one dollar and eighty-seven cents--and realizing that she does not have enough for the gift which she wishes to purchase for her husband, Della is disconsolate. She wants to buy something

...just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.

After she passes the pier glass, Della suddenly has an idea: She can sell her hair to Madame Sofronie. With this happy plan, Della hurries out while Jim is still gone. 

By the time Jim arrives, she has bought the gift worthy of him: a platinum fob chain for his gold watch that he inherited from his grandfather. Excitedly, Della uses the curling iron on her hair, makes the coffee, and anxiously awaits the return of her dear husband. In the meantime, Jim has purchased two gorgeous combs for Della's lovely tresses. These combs are made of beautiful tortoise shell with jeweled rims that Della has envied without hope of ever receiving them. 
When he arrives home, Jim, of course, is shocked to see that Della's hair is much too short for any combs. He just stares at her, but when she learns the reason, Della says encouragingly, "My hair grows so fast, Jim!" Then, she holds out the watch fob that seems to "flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit." 

"Isn't it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You'll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it."

Instead of being excited and obeying Della, Jim flings himself onto the couch, placing his hands behind his head as he tells her he sold his watch so he could buy her the beautiful combs. Ironically, now they cannot use the gifts they have received. Still, each is happy in the great gift of love from the other.

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Describe the irony in "The Gift of the Magi."

Irony is created when what actually happens is different, even the opposite, of what we expect to happen. Verbal irony is when someone says the opposite of what they mean. Situational irony is when a situation takes place that defies expectation (e.g. the firehouse burns down, the police officer gets robbed, etc.). Dramatic irony is when the audience knows something that a character does not know. This story does contain an example of dramatic irony as, before Jim Young arrives home, we know that his wife, Della, has sold her hair in order to buy him an expensive gift, though he does not know this.

A further example of irony is created by the final events of the story. The story has followed Della's actions and thoughts throughout, and we know that she has sold her most prized possessionher beautiful, long, chestnut hairin order to buy Jim a gold watch chain to go with his most prized possession. The narrator has told us that Jim's watch "had been his father's and his grandfather's" before him. Della's hair will grow back, but we would likely not expect Jim to sell a family heirloom, yet this is exactly what he has done. He has sold his most prized possession, something totally irreplaceable, in order to buy Della a beautiful set of hair combs. This is an example of situational irony because Jim's actions defy our expectation.

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What is the irony in "The Gift of the Magi"?

Irony is a literary device that occurs when the author uses elements of the story, like plot or character development, setting, or action to show contrast or the opposite of what the characters or the author may be feeling. 

Here's an example--  In "Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner," there is a line that says "Water, water every where, not any drop to drink."  This is an example of irony, because the ship is in the middle of the ocean.  Yes, the crew is surrounded by water, but they can not drink any of it.  Ah, the irony!

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What is the irony in "The Gift of the Magi"?

The irony lies in the fact that she cut her hair so that she could afford to buy him a fob chain for his watch.  She was willing to sacrifice something of worth to get him something nice.  When cutting her hair, she made his gift to her useless.  He bought her hair combs to hold up all of her long hair.  Now they are useless.  The irony on top of that is that he sold his watch for money to purchase the expensive combs for her.  This irony is the twist in the plot.  It is then tied into the sotry of the wise men who brought such expensive yet meaningless gifts to show respect, loyalty and admiration to the baby Jesus. What could a baby do with gold? But it was the effort and the sacrifice that counted.  Just as it is in this short story. They both sacrificed something very important to themselves to purchase something special for the other.  That is true love.

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What is the irony in "The Gift of the Magi"?

The irony of "The Gift of the Magi" is simple and has been used in many stories since its time, but it is  that of sacrificing something that means the most to you for someone that you love in order to provide them with something that you know that they would love.

In this case, Della sacrifices her hair to buy a chain for Jim's watch; while Jim, in turn, sacrifices his watch to buy combs for Della's hair.

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What is the irony in "The Gift of the Magi"?

The self-sacrifice of Jim and Delia is a genuine irony often found in the deepest human relationships. Sacrificing their most precious possessions is a reward of its own because by depriving themselves, they enrich the life of the other person. Irony is also seen because the gifts the couple gives to each other are useless. Delia can't wear her combs in her short hair, and Jim can't use his watch chain without his watch. The young couple learns that the greatest gift of all is their self-sacrificing love.

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What is the irony in "The Gift of the Magi"?

The irony in "The Gift of the Magi" is that each of the characters sells their own most prized possession in order to buy something for the other to use with their most prized possession. This renders the gifts fairly useless but incredibly meaningful. Della's most prized possession is her beautiful chestnut hair, but she sells it to a wig-maker so that she will have enough money to buy something worthy of her husband, Jim, and his family heirloom pocket watch.

When Jim gets home, he sees that Della has cut off all her beautiful hair, and he is shocked because he has sold his pocket watch in order to buy her a set of tortoiseshell combs that she had long been wanting. Because her hair is so short now, she will be unable to use the combs—at least until it grows back. Because Jim sold his pocket watch in order to purchase the now-useless combs, he is unable to use the gold watch chain that Della purchased for him with the proceeds from selling her hair.

The irony is that each of the lovely and thoughtful gifts has become useless because of the generosity of the recipient; this reality defies expectation, especially for the characters themselves.

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What are three examples of irony in "The Gift of the Magi"?

Another example of situational irony in the story is the name on the mailbox.  When one hears a name such as "Mr. James Dillingham Young," one would likely be inclined to believe that this person would be of high status—going by all three names sounds a little pretentious.  Further, there's something about the name "Dillingham" that sounds rather upper crust.  However, the James Dillingham Youngs are actually not of a high status at all; in fact, they lack status and even enough money to purchase each other one Christmas gift (before selling their most prized items).

A further example of situational irony is that, despite the fact that the narrator says that if a king lived with the Youngs in their apartment, Jim "would have looked at his watch every time they met," the narrator later says that "he sometimes took it out and looked at it only when no one could see him do it" because the watch never had a fine chain to go with it.  Despite the watch's value in terms of money as well as sentiment, Jim is embarrassed to take it out in public.  Such irony underwrites Della's desire to purchase a beautiful chain for Jim's watch.

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What are three examples of irony in "The Gift of the Magi"?

The most significant and main use of irony which is focused on in this story is the situational irony that occurs at the end of the tale. Situational irony is when we expect a certain thing to happen only to be surprised when something entirely different takes place. We can see the situational irony in operation therefore when we realise that both Jim and Della have sold what was most precious to them--their hair and watch--to buy a present for the other to use with what was most precious to them.

However, a deeper irony exists in the story. Although we are tempted to dismiss Jim and Della and their actions as "foolish," yet the narrator insists that they were in fact actually "wise" because through their self-sacrifice and love they represent the original spirit of the Magi:

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. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are the wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the Magi.

Thus Jim and Della, although apparently "foolish" in the eyes of the world, ironically come closest to the original spirit of present giving.

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What is the situational irony in the story "The Gift of the Magi"?

It is ironic when Della sells her hair to buy Jim a gift for his watch, but he can’t use the gift because he sold his watch.

Situational irony occurs in a story when the opposite of what you expect to happens is what happens.  In this story, both Della and Jim’s gifts are ironic.  Since the story follows Della’s point of view first, hers is a good example.

Della feels inadequate because the couple is poor and she has barely scraped together enough for a Christmas present.  She wants to do something nice for her husband, because she loves him.  She decides to make the ultimate sacrifice and sells her hair to get money to buy him a watch band for his most prized possession.

It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not bymeretricious ornamentation—as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim's.   

At this point, we would expect Jim to come home and be thrilled at the gift.  After all, he loves his watch and the gift shows how much Della cares.  She sacrificed her beauty and her pride to get him the watch band.  The situation gets ironic when Della sees Jim’s unexpected reaction to her cutting her hair.  She thinks he is angry.

It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

It turns out, Jim is just stunned.  He sold his watch to get her the gift of her dreams, or so he thought.  He bought her combs for her long, beautiful hair.  He is baffled by her haircut because he realizes the stunning irony before she does.  They each sold what seemed to be most important to them, thus proving that what is most important to each one is the other one.

The beauty of this story is in the situational irony.  The reader realizes that the two silly young lovers are actually very wise.  They each gave up a superficial possession in order to show their love.  In doing so, even though neither could use the gift, they each gave the other the best gift of all.  They proved their love.  This is why they are called the magi.

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What quote in "The Gift of the Magi" displays situational irony?

Situational irony occurs when there is something unexpected in a situation, typically when something happens that one does not expect. One quotation that illustrates such a situation occurs when Della learns that Jim has bought her the expensive and beautiful combs she coveted immediately after she has just cut off and sold all of her hair:

They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

It is terribly ironic that Della would sell her beautiful hair to purchase Jim a lovely gold watch chain that he could be proud of and that Jim would sell his prized watch in order to buy his wife some jeweled combs for her hair. Each one sells the material possession that they most love in the world in order to make the other one happy with a thoughtful and valuable gift, and each one sells the thing that the other has in mind when buying that gift.

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What quote in "The Gift of the Magi" displays situational irony?

Situational irony is defined as an incongruity between what is expected and what actually happens. Both Della and Jim have expectations about the Christmas presents they have bought for each other. But this is really Della's story, so the situational irony would have to pertain to her expectations. She has sold her hair in order to raise twenty dollars to buy Jim an expensive platinum fob for his prized gold watch. The best quote illustrating situational irony occurs after Jim has seen her without her hair and after he has presented her with the set of tortoise shell combs. She gives him the beautiful watch-fob which has cost her such a sacrifice. In one of O. Henry's famous surprise endings he responds as follows:

“Dell,” said he, “let's put our Christmas presents away and keep ’em a while. They're too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on.”

Irony is usually like a joke that would be funny if it were not so painful to the person or persons affected. Here we have two foolish young people who sacrificed their most treasured possessions for nothing. They must look and feel foolish. Della would look especially foolish because her loss is so conspicuous. But the reader does not feel like laughing at them. Only the Devil himself would laugh at Della and Jim. It would be "sardonic laughter." 

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What is an example of situational irony in "The Gift of the Magi"?

The most important instance of situational irony involves Della. This is really her story. It is told entirely from her point of view. Her husband Jim only appears at the end. He is a relatively minor character. People will always remember "The Gift of the Magi" as a story about a young woman who sells her hair in order to raise enough money to buy her husband a Christmas present.

Situational irony involves something happening that is contrary to what is expected. Della expects her husband to be delighted with the watch fob she has chosen for him and for which she has made the great sacrifice of all her beautiful long hair. It turns out that Jim no longer has the watch. He sold it to buy Della a Christmas present of tortoise-shell combs for her hair.

Irony is usually like a cruel joke. It would be funny if it were not so painful. We do not feel like laughing at either of these two young people, but the irony is partially ameliorated by the fact that they love each other. Their love is more important than any material possessions.

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How does the author's use of irony in "The Gift of the Magi" highlight the theme?

The theme of The Gift of the Magi is sacrifice.  Della and Jim each sacrifice something precious to them in order to give the other a special gift.  Della sells her hair and uses the money to buy Jim a chain for his beloved family heirloom watch.  Jim sells his watch to buy combs for Della's beautiful long hair.  The irony is that each person no longer possesses the item their gift was intended for.  Despite this sad irony, Della and Jim still appear happy.  They realize that their love for one another is the most important.  They experience each other's love through their sacrifices.  The irony highlights the sacrifice because the gifts cannot be used as intended.  If each had given a gift that could be used, the ending would have been only happy.  Instead, the ending is mixed with sadness.  Yet even in the sadness, there is joy and love.

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What types of irony are found in "The Gift of the Magi"?

Verbal irony is present in the setting of the story. The name card on the letterbox for the apartment that is the location for most of the action in the story reads "Mr. James Dillingham Young", a distinguished name once upon a time, but no longer. Now,

the letters of "Dillingham" looked blurred, as though they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D.

As the story continues, it becomes apparent that the financial situation has gone beyond "thinking seriously" of moving to a less expensive status - Jim and Della are living on an extremely tight budget.

The comparisons of Jim's watch with the riches of King Solomon and of Della's hair with the beauty of the Queen of Sheba's possessions could be considered situational irony - the labeling of common items as being fabulously precious possession.

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In "The Gift of the Magi," what is the situational irony?

Situational irony can be defined as when we as readers are led to believe that one thing is going to happen only to be shocked and surprised when something entirely different or the opposite of what we expect takes place. Situational irony seems to be used by authors to remind us as readers that it is often chance or the unexpected that has the last word in life. O. Henry in this classic short story therefore used situational irony to create an unforgettable and shocking ending, when we realise that both Jim and Della have sacrificed their most valuable possessions to buy something for the other to use with their most valuable possession - Della's hair and Jim's pocket watch, respectively:

For there lay The Combs - the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped for long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims - just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

This is the situational irony in this story - Della finally has been given the combs that she has desired for so long, but only when she is not in a position to use them, for she has cut her hair.

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What kind of irony is exemplified by the outcome in "The Gift of the Magi"?

Della sells her hair for twenty dollars in order to buy Jim a platinum chain for his watch. She goes home, curls what is left of her hair, and waits for Jim to come home. At this point, we (readers) have no idea what Jim has for Della. So, it is a shock to learn that he has purchased "The Combs" for her. This is an example of situational irony because this is when the outcome contradicts what is expected. It is ironic for the reader and for the characters because they could not have expected this result. 

A perceptive reader might then guess that Jim sold his watch to buy the combs. In this case, it would be an example of dramatic irony because this occurs when the reader knows something a character does not. In this case, if the reader correctly assumes that Jim sold his watch, the reader knows something that Della does not yet know.

However, if the reader does not make this assumption, it is still situational irony because, again, the result is contrary to what was expected. In this case, the reader does not foresee this second result. Likewise, neither Della nor Jim expected their gifts to be rendered useless as a result of their mutual generosity. The irony is created out of the situation in which the result is unexpected. 

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What is ironic about the story "The Gift of the Magi"?

The Gift of the Magi, written by O. Henry (the pen name for William Sydney Porter, 1862–1910) is one of his best-known works and has become a favorite Christmas story.  As the title suggests, its a story of unselfish love, as exemplified by the precious gifts that the Oriental kings leave as presents at the birth of Jesus.

The irony in the story is due to the sacrifice each of the characters makes for the other -- Jim sells his valued pocketwatch to buy hair combs for Delia, and she cuts and sells her beautiful hair to buy an expensive chain for Jim's watch.  In trying to enhance the precious possession of the other, each sold what was precious to them.

http://www.lsjunction.com/people/porter.htm

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