Student Question

What is the significance of the couple's apartment description in O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi"?

Quick answer:

The narrator describes the apartment building and its amenities, emphasizing their shabby condition.

Expert Answers

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In O. Henry's short story, "The Gift of the Magi," the narrator describes Jim and Della's apartment, which they rent for eight dollars a week. When describing the apartment's exterior, he tells the reader:

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring.

The point here is that Jim and Della's apartment is so humble that it is bereft not only of luxuries but also of necessities. The letter-box does not work as a letter-box, since it is too small to contain a letter, and the doorbell does not work as a doorbell, since it does not ring.

This description goes slightly beyond that of the shabbiness of the apartment, to which the narrator has already alluded. It also complements the reiteration of the sum of "one dollar and eighty-seven cents," which is all Della has to spend on Jim's Christmas gift. These details emphasize the poverty of the young couple, and therefore make their generosity in buying expensive presents for one another all the more meaningful.

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