The Gift of the Magi Themes

“The Gift of the Magi” key themes:

  • In “The Gift of the Magi,” the theme of love pervades the story as Della and Jim sacrifice their most valued possessions to demonstrate their love to one another.

  • The couple’s material poverty contrasts with the wealth of their love for one another.

  • The story conveys that it is the sentiment of the gift rather than the gift itself that matters.

  • Della learns that Jim loves her for more than her appearance.

Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

O. Henry often chose to translate tragedy or misfortune into an emphasized regard and tenderness for the unlucky or the underdog. He never cared for the so-called higher classes but preferred to cull his characters, and his sympathies, from watching ordinary people on the streets and in the shops and cafés. This perspective on the world around him is highly visible in “The Gift of the Magi,” where, to enforce his quasi-religious message, he counterpoints the elements of love and caring with those of poverty and sacrifice.

The extreme devotion manifested on the part of the young married couple becomes almost incongruous when contrasted against the dreariness and bleakness of their material surroundings. Each arrives at the conclusion that it is impossible to live through Christmas without granting the other’s supreme wish. It is not “selfish magnanimity”—a desire to revel in the sacrifice of giving—that motivates them. They truly embrace the noble sentiment of selflessness.

Thus, despite the specter of poverty, the story is animated by an unexpressed hope for the future. (This is a variation on the old theme that love conquers all, particularly material setbacks.) By setting the story at Christmastime, the author suggests that simple, unselfish human love is the basis of such hope for humankind.


(Short Stories for Students)

Love, generosity, and the various definitions of wealth and poverty are central themes in "The Gift of the Magi,"...

(The entire section is 607 words.)