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 main conflict in "The Gift of the Magi"?

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The main conflict in "The Gift of the Magi" concerns Della not having enough money to purchase Jim a valuable Christmas gift, which she believes he deserves.

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Jim's problem should not be included as part of the main conflict in "The Gift of the Magi." Della is the protagonist and the viewpoint character. It is her story from beginning to end. Her conflict arises out of her motivation. She wants to buy her husband a nice Christmas present because she loves him so much. 

Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn't go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. 

Jim's conflict is never mentioned in the story. Jim is not even present until towards the end when he gets home from work. Everything that happens in the story up to the climax happens to Della. She doesn't have enough money--and yet she still keeps wanting to buy Jim a nice present. She even knows what she would like to get: a watch fob to attach to Jim's beautiful pocket watch.

In attempting to solve her conflict, Della hits on the idea of selling her beautiful hair. Impulsively she goes to Madame Sofronie and sells it for twenty dollars, just enough to buy the platinum watch fob. (Note that nothing is said about any conflict Jim might be experiencing. He may not have had any conflict at all but just decided to sell his watch to raise some Christmas money.)

One problem leads to another. Now that Della has sold her hair she sees that she looks very strange. She is afraid that Jim will be repelled by her appearance and will cease to love her. This is the way with primary conflicts in stories: one conflict leads to another one which is even more serious. Della's desire to buy Jim a nice gift was a small problem, but her fear of losing him forever is a much greater problem, and she has no means of solving this one because she has parted with the only thing of value that she owned.

She had a habit for saying little silent prayers about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: “Please God, make him think I am still pretty.”

She did have one recourse. She could pray to God for help. And the conflict is resolved, apparently, as a result of her prayer. It turns out that Jim not only still loves her in spite of her changed appearance, but he loves her so much that he has parted with his most treasured material possession in order to buy her a Christmas present. Prayer can work miracles. The message is especially appropriate in a Christmas story.

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The main conflict of the short story "The Gift of the Magi" is only superficial. Let me try to tease out the deeper meaning. 

On the surface, there is a conflict. The conflict is that both Jim and Della, the protagonists, are poor. Moreover, it is Christmas and they want to get something for each other to show their deep love. The story starts with these words:

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies.

However, as the story progresses we learn they each possess something of great value. Della has beautiful hair and Jim has a gold pocket watch. So, both Jim and Della have a plan. Della will cut her hair and sell it to buy Jim a chain for his pocket watch. And Jim will sell his watch to buy combs for Della's beautiful hair. 

At the end of the story, there is a surprise. Both Jim and Della have gifts that they cannot use. Combs for little hair and a chain without a watch do not work. But in the end, they are seen as wise, because they gave what they loved to another person. They outdid one another in love and generosity. What really showed was their hearts. 

From this perspective, is there really a dilemma? Probably not. It is only apparent. In the end, I am sure that they were glad to give, for in giving they received much more than they could ever imagine. 

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The main conflict in The Gift of the Magi is poverty.  Because of their poverty, Jim and Delia have to make great personal sacrifices to buy the other a Christmas present.

"In "The Gift of the Magi," O. Henry uses a folksy narrator to tell the story of Jim and Delia Young, a poor young couple who buy each other special Christmas gifts, which ironically cancel each other out because Delia sells her hair to buy Jim a chain for his watch, which he in turn has sold to buy her a fine set of combs for her hair. Despite the fact that these gifts are now useless, Jim and Delia have given each other the greatest gift of all, which the narrator compares to the gifts given to the Christ child by the wise men, or magi: selfless love."

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There are basically two types of conflicts in the story:

Internal conflict exists, as Della and Jim struggle with the decision to sacrifice the things that mean the most to them personally in order to provide  the one they love with a proper gift that appropriately symbolizes their love.

External conflict exists in the form of Man versus Society as Jim and Della struggle against a financially centered society in which they lack the ability or means to provide their loved one witha proper gift that appropriately symbolizes their love.

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Another conflict in the story, and probably the most obvious is that the couple would like to be able to give the other something spectacular for Christmas that neither can afford because they are poor. The conflict is how each can express their love for the other through the material thing they present on Christmas Day and they find that resolved in the act of sacrifice that each was willing to commit through the useless gifts they presented made useless by each sacrifice made by Jim and Della. 

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One major conflict is the couple's struggle to survive in the midst of poverty. O'Henry describes their apartment in great detail in order to show just how poor the couple is in material wealth.

Both Jim and Delia have an internal struggle as well. Delia's long, beautiful hair is her most prized possession, and she must convince herself that she's doing the right thing in having it cut. For Jim, his watch is a family heirloom that has been handed down to him. It isn't something he can go out and buy later if he should get the money. It's a difficult conflict for him as well to sell the watch.

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In O. Henry's classic short story "The Gift of the Magi," Della is the protagonist, and her primary conflict is that she does not have enough money to purchase Jim a worthy Christmas present. Jim and Della Dillingham Young are depicted as a poor, loving couple, who sincerely desire to get each other a valuable Christmas present.

O. Henry primarily focuses on Della's conflict in the story as she makes the difficult decision to sacrifice her prized hair in order to purchase Jim an expensive platinum fob for his gold watch. After saving one dollar and eighty-seven cents, Della visits Madame Sofronie's salon to sell her hair. Della recognizes that her hair is the only valuable thing that she owns and willingly sells it for twenty dollars.

Once Della sells her beautiful hair, she searches every store for the perfect gift and ends up purchasing a platinum fob chain for her husband. Although Della's main conflict seems to be resolved, her solution leads to another conflict, which concerns her fear that Jim will leave her because she looks like an unattractive schoolboy.

Della reveals her anxiety that Jim will leave her by saying a quick prayer and attempting to style what remains of her hair. Fortunately, Jim's love for Della is not based on superficial material items or her outward appearance. Jim remains a faithful, loving husband and appreciates Della's sacrifice because it proves her love. Ironically, both Jim and Della's gifts are useless, but their love for each other is sincere and remains intact.

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How is the conflict resolved in the story "The Gift of the Magi"?

First, we ought to decide which type of conflict exists in the story: character vs. self, character vs. character, character vs. Nature, or character vs. society. Della doesn't seem very conflicted within herself. She wants to buy her husband, Jim, a "sterling" gift that is worthy of him, but she has no money; she decides, relatively quickly, to sell her hair in order to afford a beautiful watch chain. We can likewise rule out character vs. Nature because Della does not engage in some kind of battle against natural forces. Further, I'd argue that we can rule out character vs. society as well because she doesn't battle social forces either. That leaves character vs. character; therefore, it must be Della vs. Jim because they are the only two real characters. This doesn't make Jim a villain and Della the hero. This just means that Jim is the force that opposes Della's concept of herself and/or the world and helps her to change or to grow. When Jim sells his watch to buy Della a really thoughtful gift of hair combs that she'd "coveted" for so long, this seems to prompt a change in Della (just as her gift to him prompts a new realization in him as well). It is not explicitly stated, but, rather, it is implied in the final paragraph. The narrator says that each partner

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

This implies that Jim and Della both realize that they were willing to sacrifice their most prized possessions for one another because of how much they love each other. Their generous love and willingness to sacrifice is really the greatest gift that they give. Therefore, the conflict between them is resolved when this realization takes place, and it takes both of them being so self-sacrificing in order to have it.

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How is the conflict resolved in the story "The Gift of the Magi"?

Della wants to buy Jim a nice Christmas present, so she sells some of her beautiful locks to a fancy hairdressing salon, and uses the proceeds to purchase a watch-chain. Jim also wants to buy Della a nice Christmas present. But he too doesn't have any money. So he sells his gold-watch to buy her some expensive combs for her beautiful hair. Both Della and Jim deal with their inner conflicts in the exact same way.

But this merely generates additional external conflict because now, both Jim and Della have been lumbered with gifts that are effectively useless: Jim doesn't have a watch to go with his shiny new watch-chain; and Della can't use her pretty new combs because she no longer has enough hair. And yet this conflict is also resolved by the realization on the part of the couple that the love they have for each other is so much more important than any material gift. The various conflicts seen throughout the story—both internal and external—have been resolved by wisdom.

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How is the conflict resolved in the story "The Gift of the Magi"?

The Gift of the Magi does present conflicts for the characters, both internal and external.  The internal conflict of this story springs from the desires of both Della and Jim to buy a meaningful gift for each other.  They want the gift to be perfect.  The problem is that neither have the money to buy the chosen gift.  This external conflict is resolved when Della sells her hair to buy Jim a watch chain while Jim sells his watch to buy Della a hair comb.  While this may present another conflict in theory, the love that the couple obviously has for one another outweighs and even overshadows the realization that the gifts cannot be used.  The assumption remains that Della will regrow her hair, and Jim will be able to buy another watch.

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What is the conflict of "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry?

There are two ways in which to answer this question and they are both symbolic.

First, there is a conflict of love. Both Jim and Della want to outdo one another in love. They want to express their love in a way that accurately shows the depth of their love for one another. So, they both sell what they prize the most to express and show their love to one another. Della sells her hair and gives to Jim a chain for his watch and Jim sells his watch to give Della combs for her hair. In light of this, they sought to show love in extravagant ways.

Second, what made these acts of love difficult was that they were poor. The open lines of the story shows their poverty, as Della counts the pennies that she possessed and saved.

In the end, both win. This is the irony of the story or to use the language of O. Henry, this is why they are magi. They found the beauty of giving.

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What dilemma do the central characters face in "The Gift of the Magi"?

The two characters in The Gift of the Magi are a young married couple, Della and Jim.  Both are faced with a dilemma.  They are both very poor yet desire to give each other special gifts for Christmas.  Della has only $1.87 to use to buy a gift for her husband.  The reader does not know how much money Jim has to spend on a gift, but it is implied that he also has very little.  Della has to make a difficult decision.  Should she keep her long, beautiful hair or sell it to buy a gift for Jim?  Finally, she decides to sell her hair for $20, which she uses to purchase a watch chain for her husband's special pocket watch.  The reader does not see Jim's decision making process, as we do with Della.  We do find out that he comes home having sold his pocket watch to buy a set of combs for Della's long hair.

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What are the development conflicts in the main characters in "The Gift of the Magi"?

The conflict in "The Gift of the Magi," stems from the condition of poverty, material poverty in which Jim and Delia live.  Jim and Delia do not have much money, although Jim works, they cannot afford to buy Christmas presents for each other.  

Both Jim and Delia decide that they will sell their most prized possession in order to obtain money to buy the other a Christmas present.  Even though Delia treasures her long beautiful, she is willing to sacrifice it in order to get money to buy a gift for her husband.

 "But O. Henry makes Delia's happiness in her love for Jim quite clear: "Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling—something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honour of being owned by Jim."

They sacrifice the material possession that they value in order to use the money obtained to buy a Christmas present.  For Jim, it involves selling his grandfather's watch, for Delia, it involves selling her beautiful long hair. 

"But Jim clearly values his young wife more than his gold watch, because he sells it in order to buy her a set of beautiful, jewel-edged tortoiseshell combs for her long hair."

Delia buys Jim a chain for his watch with the money she got for selling her hair.  Jim buys Delia beautiful tortoise shell combs that she has admired for her long hair.

The conflict comes full circle when they both realize that, especially Jim, when he sees his wife's short hair, that their gifts are now useless.  They don't even open the gifts they made such great sacrifices to buy.  It doesn't matter, because Jim and Delia have what really matters in life, a deep love.

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What conflict is revealed in the exposition of the story of "The Gift of the Magi"?

The exposition, which is the beginning narration in the story, reveals the conflict between Della and a lack of funds. She does not have the amount of money that she wants to be able to buy her husband a quality gift. The exposition goes on to explain the monetary struggle that Della and Jim have been facing up to this particular Christmas.

This conflict between the characters and their finances sets up the story to demonstrate true sacrifice. Della and Jim must both sell what is most important to them in order to afford gifts for each other. They do this without consulting each other, though, and it leads to an ironic situation where the gifts are rendered useless. Della sells her hair to buy Jim a watch chain, and Jim sells his watch to buy Della hair combs.

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