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 theme in "The Gift of the Magi"?

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The primary theme of O. Henry's story "The Gift of the Magi" is selfless love. Della and Jim both sacrifice their most prized possessions out of love for each other, and in so doing, they prove themselves wise like the Magi of old.

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In O. Henry's story “The Gift of the Magi,” Della and Jim sacrifice their greatest treasures to buy Christmas gifts for each other, and herein lies the story's main theme: self-giving love. Della and Jim love each other far more than they love their possessions, and they are willing to give up those treasured possessions to express their love for each other.

Della's hair is her pride and joy. It flows “rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters” all the way down below her knees. Her hair is more valuable to her than nearly anything else. But she needs the perfect gift for her husband, so she sells her hair for twenty dollars and buys Jim a platinum fob for his treasured watch.

Jim's watch is the couple's other “pride and joy” possession. He inherited it from his father, who had inherited it from his own father. The watch is a lovely gold, and Jim often pulls it out just so others can admire it. Yet Jim needs the perfect gift for his wife, so he sells the watch to buy Della the set of tortoiseshell hair combs she has so long admired.

Both Della and Jim decide that their love for each other is worth far more than their most prized possessions. Therefore, they sacrifice the hair and the watch because they love each other, symbolically giving parts of themselves along with the presents they purchase. This self-giving love may seem foolish to many people, especially since neither Della nor Jim can use their Christmas presents. The presents, however, are not the point at all. Della and Jim's love is far more important, and in their love, they are wise, just like the Magi.

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What are some quotes that support the theme of "The Gift of the Magi"?

With the theme of O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi" being that love supercedes materialism, that is, the spiritual gift of love is far more important than any material object, much of the written narrative is directed toward this moral.

When, for instance, Della decides to sell her most precious possession, hair that the Queen of Sheba would have envied, in order to purchase a platinum watch chain for her husband's handsome watch, she is delighted to be "ransaking the stores for Jim's present."  In fact, O. Henry writes that "the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings."

As Jim arrives home, he stops inside the door with "a peculiar expression on his face."  When he learns why Della has cut her hair, "[He] enfolded his Della."  Jim explains that there is nothing that "could make me like my girl any less."  Further, he says  that if she opens the package she will understand his perplexity.  And, when Della discovers the combs for which she has yearned, she

...hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say, 'My hair grows so fast, Jim!'

Then, Della hurries to give Jim his present, the watch chain.  But Jim has sold his watch in order to buy the combs for Della.  Instead of being upset and regretting his loss, Jim tells Della,

"...let's put our Christmas presents away and keep 'em awhile.  They're too nice to use just at present...."

Finally, the authorial intrusion of O. Henry explicates the theme:

...And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasure of their house.....Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest.  Everywhere they are wisest.  They are the Magi.
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What are some of the themes in "The Gift of Magi"?

Another theme in the short story "Gift of the Magi" is that of secrecy, particularly in giving. Part of Jim and Della's reasoning in keeping the gifts secret is of course the element of surprise. Both are looking forward to the excitement of the element of surprise when their loved one finally opens the much-saved for present. The humorous irony of secrecy in marriage and relationships is borne out by the fact that the combs are now redundant, because Della has sacrificed her long hair, which makes Jim a little sad. This is a poignant moment, but at least everyone in the story ,and the readers, can be comforted by the fact that hair grows back - and both will have learned a little about keeping secrets in marriage!

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What are some of the themes in "The Gift of Magi"?

To me, the major theme of this story is that of love.  The story explores what love is through the actions of Jim and Delia.

In the story, Jim and Delia are very generous to one another.  They are each willing to give up their most treasured possessions in order to give the other a present.  This is a tremendously loving thing to do for another person.  The author is saying that even if a gift ends up not being useful, the thought behind it can show great love.

So the main theme is love and how a person may show love to another.

Enotes' summary also says that wealth and poverty is a theme.  It points out that the couple is poor in material goods but is rich because of their love.

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What are some of the themes in "The Gift of Magi"?

This is a good question. There are many themes in O. Henry's short story, "The Gift of the Magi." Let me give you three of them.

Perhaps the greatest theme of the short story is generosity. This theme is underlined when the reader is let into the world of the two main characters, Della and Jim. They are poor. They have been saving all year long and still they have little money to buy anything for each other. In light of this, they sell their most prized possession to have enough money to buy a gift for each other. Della cuts her hair and sells it; Jim sells his gold watch.  Generosity is show through sacrifice.

Second, the whole short story is about true love as well. If we ask why Della and Jim do what they do, we can say that it is on account of love. Della and Jim might be poor in material possessions, but they are extremely wealthy in love.

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What are the other themes of "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry besides love?

In O'Henry's short story "The Gift of the Magi," another theme that is present but that exists in tandem with love is that of sacrifice for others.  Jim and Della don't have much in life, but they each do have one prized possession:  Della has beautiful hair that would be the envy and prize of any woman, and Jim has a fine gold watch that is a prized family heirloom.  Each desires to give the other a gift that will enhance the treasured possession of the other.

With Christmas approaching, Della finds that she hasn't managed to save enough of their meager income to purchase the gift she wants for Jim, so she makes the painful decision to sell her hair to supplement what she has.  This is a difficult decision because it means not only that she will have short, unremarkable hair, but she is also concerned that Jim will not find her attractive anymore.  She is willing to sacrifice her hair and open herself up to insecurities, however, because of her deep, abiding love for him.

Jim has watched his beloved wife admire a set of hair combs on numerous occasions, and he desperately wishes to give them to her for Christmas.  However, when finances fall short, he chooses to sacrifice his treasured watch to give Della her unspoken heart's desire.  This was a great sacrifice, for though he may someday have a fine watch again, no other would hold the sentimental value and family history that his does.

Much has been written and discussed concerning whose sacrifice was the greatest, but in the end it doesn't matter which gift we judge to have the greatest value.  Each unselfishly gave the one thing that was most precious - nothing could have been harder for each of them to set aside for the love of one another.

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What's a theme for "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry?

The recurring theme in the "Gift of the Magi" is self-sacrifice.  Della and Jim are poor young people who are just trying to make ends meet.  Each one wants to give the other a nice Christmas present, but they do not have the means to do so.  Della sells her hair, which we are told is quite beautiful, in order to buy Jim a watch chain.  Jim sells his watch, which has been in the family for a long time, in order to buy Della some combs for her beautiful hair.  When they exchange gifts, they cannot use them.  However, generosity is at the heart of the story because these two gave their most prized possessions.  In the Bible story, the Magi (Three Wise Men) brought the infant Jesus gold, frankincense, and myrrh because these were the valuable things of that period.  Della and Jim gave the most valuable things they possessed, and that is what gives the story the themes of generosity and self-sacrifice.  

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What's a theme for "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry?

There are many themes in the short story, "Gift of the Magi."  For example, love, sacrifice, and generosity are all important themes.  However, if I had to pick the central theme and my favorite, I would pick the idea of self-forgetfulness. 

Both Jim and Della are thinking about each other, instead of themselves.  The proof of this is their desire to get gifts for one another by selling what is most valuable to them. 

Della sells her hair for Jim.  She wants to buy him a chain for his watch. Jim sells his watch to buy combs for Della's flowing hair.  Of course, in the end they possess gifts that they cannot use, but in the process they forget about themselves.  They learn the true meaning of Christmas - giving, generosity, and sacrifice.  For this reason, they are wise. 

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What's a theme for "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry?

O. Henry is not generally regarded as a particularly profound or complex writer. The reader is apt to find that, after a few stories, the plot twists at the end come to seem rather mechanical. "The Gift of the Magi," however, really does have a profound theme, one which is difficult to express in a few words. One might perhaps identify it rather vaguely as "the wisdom of love" or try to pin it down a little more precisely as "the paradox that happiness is most likely to come from caring about someone else's happiness more than one's own."

At the end of the story, O. Henry describes Jim and Della as both foolish and wise. From a materialistic point of view, they are undoubtedly foolish, having given up treasured possessions to buy gifts that turn out to be useless. Each of them, however, willingly made a great material sacrifice in order to make the other happy. The cliché that "it's the thought that counts" is true of their gifts, though perhaps it would be slightly more accurate here to say "it's the feeling that counts." There is no doubt in the reader's mind that the impecunious young couple will have a happy Christmas together and, provided that their priorities do not change, a happy life, since their eagerness to sacrifice Della's hair and Jim's watch have conclusively proved that these were never their most precious possessions in the first place.

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What's a theme for "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry?

"The Gift of the Magi" is a Christmas story evidently intended to be published in the Christmas issue of a New York newspaper. As such, the story has a Christmas theme related to the spirit of giving. The theme hearkens back to one of the stories in the New Testament which is to be found in the King James Version of the Bible in Mark 12:41-44.

41 And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.

42 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.

43 And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:

44 For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.

The story of "The Widow's Two Mites" is also told in Luke 21:1-4.

In other words, it is the spirit behind the gift and not the gift itself that is important. Della and Jim Young illustrate this moral when they express their love for each other by giving everything they have at Christmas time. Della sacrifices her long, beautiful hair, and Jim sells his treasured pocket-watch in order to get enough money to buy each other Christmas presents. It is ironic that Jim no longer has a watch for the platinum fob Della gives him and Della no longer has the long hair to be held in place by the ornate tortoise-shell combs he buys for her. But what is important is that they love each other, and their gifts really only serve as symbols and proofs of their love, which is far more precious than any material objects.

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