The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

The Gift of the Magi book cover
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What happens in The Gift of the Magi?

In “The Gift of the Magi,” Della is determined to give her husband a Christmas gift. In order to afford the fob for her husband's watch, she sells her long, beautiful hair, only to learn that he has sold his beloved watch to buy her a set of combs.

“The Gift of the Magi” summary key points:

  • Della Young decides to sell her beautiful hair to buy a watch fob for her husband’s beloved watch.

  • When Jim comes home, he is saddened and surprised to see Della’s beautiful hair missing. He offers her his gift: bejeweled combs that she no longer needs.

  • Della offers her gift to Jim. He looks at her and admits that he has sold his watch to buy her the combs.

  • The two are overcome with love as they realize they have sacrificed their most prized possessions for one another.

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Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Della Young is a devoted young married woman. Christmas Eve finds her in possession of a meager one dollar and eighty-seven cents, the sum total of her savings, with which she wants to buy a gift for her husband, Jim. A recent cut in the family income, from an ample thirty dollars a week to a stingy twenty dollars a week, has turned Della’s frugality into parsimony. Although she lives in an eight-dollar-a-week flat and her general surroundings, even by the greatest stretch of the imagination, do not meet the standards of genteel poverty, Della determines that she cannot live through Christmas without giving Jim a tangible reminder of the season.

Distraught, she clutches the one dollar and eighty-seven cents in her hand as she moves discontentedly about her tiny home. Suddenly, catching a glance of herself in the cheap pier glass mirror, a maneuver possible only for the slender and agile viewer, the perfect solution suggests itself. Whirling about with happiness, she lets down her long, beautiful hair. It is like brown sable and falls in caressing folds to below her knees. After a moment’s self-admiration, and another half-moment’s reservation, during which time a tear streaks down her face, she resolutely puts on her old hat and jacket and leaves the flat.

Della’s quick steps take her to the shop of Madame Sofronie, an establishment that trades in hair goods of all kinds. Entering quickly, lest her nerve desert her, she offers to sell her hair. Madame Sofronie surveys the luxuriant tresses, unceremoniously slices them off, and hands Della twenty dollars. For the next two hours, Della feels herself in paradise, temporarily luxuriating in the knowledge that she can buy anything she wants. She decides on a watch fob for Jim’s beautiful old watch. If there are two treasures in the world of which James and Della Dillingham Young are inordinately and justly proud, they are her hair (lately and gladly sacrificed) and Jim’s revered gold watch, handed down to him by his grandfather.

She finally sees exactly what she wants, a platinum watch fob that costs twenty-one dollars. She excitedly anticipates Jim’s reaction when he sees a proper chain for his...

(The entire section is 1,986 words.)