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O. Henry, the pen name of William Sydney Porter, stands as one of the most celebrated figures in American literature. Born in 1862 in Greensboro, North Carolina, he embarked on a literary journey that would eventually cement his reputation as a master of the short story genre.
O. Henry’s tales are renowned for their wit, wordplay, and twist endings, characteristics that have endeared him to readers for over a century. His ability to capture the essence of everyday life, combined with his unique storytelling techniques, has made him a staple in American literary studies.
His stories often revolve around ordinary people faced with unexpected challenges, and they resonate with themes of love, sacrifice, and irony. O. Henry’s influence is evident in the works of many subsequent writers, and his legacy as a storyteller remains unparalleled.
“The Gift of the Magi”: A Tale of Love and Sacrifice
“The Gift of the Magi” is perhaps O. Henry’s most iconic work, a testament to the enduring power of love and the profound sacrifices individuals are willing to make for their loved ones. Set against the backdrop of a modest apartment in New York City, the story unfolds on Christmas Eve, introducing readers to Della and Jim Young, a young couple grappling with financial constraints.
Despite their limited means, both harbor a deep desire to present the other with a special Christmas gift. Their ensuing decisions lead to an unexpected and poignant conclusion, revealing the depth of their love and the true essence of gift-giving.
The story, in its brief span, encapsulates the spirit of the festive season, emphasizing that the value of a gift is not determined by its monetary worth but by the love and thought behind it.
The Gift of the Magi Questions And Answers
|What is Della doing at the beginning of the story and why?
|At the beginning of the story Della was moping and crying because she only had $1.82 to use to buy her husband Jim a gift for Christmas, and it was Christmas Eve meaning she had very little time to think of something.
|From where does Della get the $1.87 according to the text?
|By haggling with merchants
|Which possessions do Della and Jim value most?
|Della valued her hair. Jim valued his gold chain.
|What is Jim’s initial reaction to Della when he arrives home?
|Jim’s initial reaction when he entered the flat, (their home or apartment), was shock.
|What gifts do the couple give each other?
|Della gets Jim a watch chain with the money she got from selling her hair. Jim gets Della hair combs that are designed for both fastening and adorning a woman’s hair.
|According to the narrator, who were the Magi?
|Della gets Jim a watch chain with the money she got from selling her hair. Jim gets Della hair combs designed for fastening and adoring a woman’s hair.
|The story begins on Christmas Eve. Why is this aspect of setting so important to the story?
|This aspect of setting is important because it shows how little time they have to get each other a gift.
|Why is Della upset at the beginning of the story?
|She does not have enough money to buy a nice present for Jim.
|What do Della’s and Jim’s sacrifices tell you about their relationship?
|Della and Jim’s sacrifices show that they care about each other because they both gave up something special to them to get each other a thoughtful gift for Christmas.
|Della compares the watch chain to Jim: “Quietness and value-the description applied to both.” Does this description apply to Jim when he enters the flat? Why?
|Yes, this can be applied to Jim when he entered the flat because he was shocked but stood quiet. Value can also be applied to Jim also because you can tell that he values his wife Della more than his gold pocket watch.
|What is both wonderful an terrible about each gift? use details from the story to explain the irony of the situation.
|What was wonderful about each gift is that they were both things that each person wanted, and they were thoughtful. What was terrible about each gift was that Della would not be able to really use the combs too much, because her hair is short.
Jim cannot use the watch chain that Della gave him, because he sold his gold watch to get Della the combs. So basically what was terrible about both gifts is that they were kind of useless because they can’ really use them since they both made sacrifices.
|Why might the narrator refer to Della and Jim as the Magi?
|The narrator might refer as Della and Jim as the Magi because they both get thoughtful and wise gifts to each other like the Magi gave thoughtful and wise gifts to Jesus.
The narrator says that of all who give gifts, these two are the wisest. Their sacrifices for each other made them wise, therefor are compared to the three wise men.
|What are Jim and Della’s most valued possessions?
|Jim’s watch and Della’s hair
|What does the narrator know that the characters don’t know? Cite specific lines from the story as evidence.
|The narrator knows that these two are very wise. “…let it be said that of all who give gifts, these two are the wisest…” (page 13).
|The narrator comments on the characters and events in this story. How would the story change if the narrator were not to comment?
|The story would change if the narrator did not comment because then we will not get as good of a feel for the story, meaning that we will not get as good of an explanation.
|What is the narrator’s opinion of the characters and their actions? Use details from the story to support you answer.
|The narrator’s opinions on the character’s actions are foolish, wise, and sorta unwise. “… 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 treasures of their house…” (page 13). “…let it be said that of all who give gifts, these two are the wisest…” (page 13).
|Why does Della go to Madame Sofronie’s?
|To sell her hair
|Which figurative language technique is used in the following sentence?
“I couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present.”
|Which best explains why Jim is so stunned when he first sees Della?
|He bought her a gift that she can’t use.
|Which best describes the narrator’s tone in this sentence from the last paragraph?
“Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication.”
|With which statement would the narrator most likely agree?
|Jim and Della’s gifts were good because they sacrificed so much for one another.
|Which event happened last?
a. Della bought Jim a gift.
b. Della cried about only having $1.87.
c. Della went to Madame Sofronie’s
d. Della cut her hair.
|Della bought Jim a gift.
|Which statement best expresses the theme of this story?
|The best gifts involve sacrifice.
|“There was nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl.” Which word in this quoted sentence indicates the couple’s poverty?
|“Life is made up of sobs, sniffles and smiles …” is an example of ____.
|When O. Henry describes the entrance to the apartment building, his depiction of the foyer further points out the couple’s destitution. “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 “electric button” is the doorbell that does not ring because __.
|it is broken
|Jim’s full name is “Mr. James Dillingham Young.” “The letters of ‘Dillingham’ looked blurred, as though they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D.” This quote is an example of __.
|“Della finished her cry … and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard.” The repetition of the word “gray” reinforces the _ mood.
|Jim’s gold watch, his finest possession, is a family heirloom, inherited from his _.
|When Jim comes home from work, the description of his clothing also accentuates the young couple’s poverty; “He needed a new overcoat and he was without _.”
|When Jim first sees Della with her hair short, he has an expression “she could not read. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror …” This quotation is an example of __.
|Jim finds it hard to believe Della has cut and sold her hair. Almost in shock, he asks about her hair cut more than once. Initially, Della thinks her husband does not like the way she looks without her long hair. To reassure him, she repeatedly says she’ll _.
|grow it out again
|After Della opens her present, she gives Jim the watch chain and wants him to put his watch on it right away. Instead he sits down on the couch and smiles. He then tells her he sold his watch to buy her present. O. Henry describes his story as “the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children who most unwisely sacrificed for each other [their] greatest treasures.” Then he states, “Of all who give gifts these two were the wisest.” This apparent contradiction reflects the Magi, the Wise Men, who brought gifts of great _ to the Baby Jesus.
|O. Henry’s biblical allusion to the Magi elevates a poor couple’s dilemma about buying Christmas gifts for each other to the level of the New Testament story of the Wise Men. This short story is about two young lovers who sacrifice their most prized possessions; it is a classic example of __.
|The theme of this story is that Jim and Della’s love for each other is much more valuable than any _.
Long Response Answers
1. At the end of the story, the narrator, in reference to Jim and Della, says, “Of all who give gifts these two were the wisest.” Why does the narrator think that Jim and Della are wise? Support your answer with text.
At the end of “The Gift of the Magi,” the narrator deems Jim and Della the “wisest” of gift-givers, not because of the material value of their gifts, but because of the profound love and sacrifice that their gifts represent.
The wisdom attributed to them is rooted in their understanding that true giving comes from the heart and that the most valuable gifts are those that are given selflessly. Their actions demonstrate that the essence of a gift lies not in its monetary worth but in the thought, emotion, and sacrifice behind it.
Supporting this assertion, the story reveals the depth of their sacrifices: Della sells her beautiful hair, her most prized possession, to buy a chain for Jim’s cherished watch. Conversely, Jim sells his treasured watch, a family heirloom, to purchase a set of combs for Della’s hair.
The irony is that both gifts, though chosen with immense love and care, become materially useless because of the very sacrifices they made for each other. Yet, this very irony underscores the story’s central message about the true essence of gift-giving.
The narrator further elaborates on their wisdom by likening Jim and Della to the Magi, the wise men who brought gifts to the infant Jesus. Just as the Magi’s gifts were given out of reverence and love, so were Jim and Della’s gifts. The comparison serves to emphasize that true wisdom in giving lies in understanding the emotional and symbolic significance of a gift, rather than its material value.
In essence, the narrator admires Jim and Della for their wisdom in understanding that the most valuable gifts are those given from the heart with love and sacrifice.
2. Summarize the text. List five to seven key events from the story in the order in which they happen. Your summary should include main points from the beginning, middle, and end of the story.
- Financial Constraints: The story begins with Della Young counting her savings, amounting to only $1.87, and feeling disheartened because she wants to buy her husband, Jim, a special Christmas gift.
- Della’s Sacrifice: In her determination to purchase a meaningful gift for Jim, Della decides to sell her long, beautiful hair, her most prized possession, to a wig-maker named Madame Sofronie.
- Jim’s Gift: With the money she receives from selling her hair, Della buys a platinum fob chain for Jim’s cherished pocket watch, believing it to be the perfect complement to his treasured possession.
- Jim’s Sacrifice: Unbeknownst to Della, Jim has also made a significant personal sacrifice. He sells his precious gold watch, a family heirloom, to buy a set of ornate combs that Della has long admired for her hair.
- The Gift Exchange: On Christmas Eve, the couple exchanges their gifts. The irony becomes clear when Della unwraps the combs, realizing that her hair is no longer long enough to use them, and Jim sees the chain, knowing he no longer has his watch.
- Realization of Sacrifice: Both Della and Jim come to the realization that their gifts, though chosen with immense love and care, have become materially useless because of the sacrifices they made for each other. However, this realization deepens their appreciation for each other’s love and the true meaning of their gifts.
- Narrator’s Reflection: The story concludes with the narrator reflecting on the couple’s actions, deeming them the “wisest” of gift-givers. The narrator likens them to the Magi, emphasizing that true gifts come from the heart and are a testament to love and sacrifice.
Set in New York City during the early 20th century, “The Gift of the Magi” revolves around a young married couple, Della and Jim Young, who are deeply in love but financially constrained. As Christmas approaches, both are determined to buy the other a meaningful gift, despite having very little money.
Della, having saved a mere $1.87, is disheartened, knowing it’s insufficient for a worthy gift for Jim. In a moment of inspiration, she decides to sell her most prized possession: her long, beautiful hair. With the money she receives from the sale, she buys a platinum fob chain for Jim’s cherished pocket watch, believing it to be the perfect complement to his treasured possession.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Della, Jim makes a similar sacrifice. He sells his precious watch to purchase a set of ornate combs for Della’s hair, which he knows she has admired for a long time.
On Christmas Eve, the two exchange their gifts. The irony becomes clear: Della’s hair, for which the combs were intended, is gone, and Jim’s watch, meant to be paired with the platinum chain, has been sold. Despite the apparent futility of their gifts, the couple realizes the depth of their love and the magnitude of their mutual sacrifices.
The story concludes with the narrator likening them to the Magi, the wise men who brought gifts to the infant Jesus, emphasizing that true gifts come from the heart and are a testament to love and sacrifice.
Della is depicted as a young woman of immense love, dedication, and selflessness. Living in a modest apartment and facing financial constraints, she still exudes a spirit of optimism and determination. Her long, beautiful hair is her crowning glory, a symbol of her femininity and identity.
Yet, she willingly parts with it to buy a gift for Jim, showcasing her depth of love and the lengths she’s willing to go for her husband’s happiness. Her motivations are purely driven by love and the desire to make Christmas special for Jim, even if it means sacrificing her most prized possession.
In the story, Della represents the theme of selfless love and sacrifice, emphasizing that true love often involves putting the needs and happiness of loved ones above one’s own.
Jim, like Della, is characterized by his deep love and willingness to sacrifice for his wife. He is the proud owner of a gold watch, a family heirloom, and his most treasured possession.
Despite its sentimental value, Jim doesn’t hesitate to sell it to buy a gift for Della, demonstrating his prioritization of her happiness over material possessions. His motivations mirror Della’s, rooted in love and the desire to give her something she has long admired.
Jim’s character underscores the story’s central theme that the true value of a gift lies not in its material worth but in the thought and love behind it.
Madame Sofronie: She is the owner of the hair shop where Della sells her hair. While her role is brief, she serves as a catalyst for Della’s sacrifice, offering her the money she needs to buy Jim’s gift.
Themes and Motifs
One of the most prominent themes in “The Gift of the Magi” is sacrifice. Both Della and Jim willingly part with their most cherished possessions to buy gifts for each other. Della’s decision to cut and sell her beautiful hair and Jim’s choice to sell his treasured watch underscore the lengths they are willing to go for each other’s happiness.
Their sacrifices are not driven by obligation but by genuine love. O. Henry uses their actions to convey the message that true love often involves selflessness and putting the needs of loved ones above one’s own desires.
The deep, unwavering love between Della and Jim is at the heart of the story. Their love is not defined by material possessions or wealth but by understanding, care, and mutual respect. Even in the face of financial constraints, their love remains steadfast, driving them to make sacrifices for each other’s happiness.
The story emphasizes that love is not about grand gestures or expensive gifts but about the thought and emotion behind an action. O. Henry beautifully encapsulates the idea that love is the most precious gift of all.
Materialism vs. Emotional Value
“The Gift of the Magi” provides a touching reflection on the contrast between the material value and emotional significance of gifts. Society often places great importance on the monetary worth of gifts, but O. Henry challenges this notion by highlighting their emotional value. Despite being rendered useless in a material sense, the gifts exchanged between Della and Jim hold immense emotional significance.
Though valuable in their own right, the platinum chain and the ornate combs are overshadowed by the love and thought behind them. The story serves as a reminder that the true worth of a gift is not determined by its price tag but by the love and intention with which it is given.
The central irony in “The Gift of the Magi” is both poignant and thought-provoking. Both Della and Jim make significant personal sacrifices to buy gifts that, in the end, neither can use. Della sells her hair to buy a chain for Jim’s watch, while Jim sells his watch to buy combs for Della’s hair.
The twist is that their sacrifices render the gifts useless. This situational irony underscores the story’s central themes of love and sacrifice, emphasizing that the true value of a gift lies in the thought and emotion behind it, rather than its practical utility.
- Della’s Hair: Della’s long, beautiful hair symbolizes her youth, beauty, and identity. By selling it, she sacrifices a significant part of herself, emphasizing the depth of her love for Jim.
- Jim’s Watch: The gold watch, a family heirloom, represents Jim’s connection to his past and his identity. It’s not just a timepiece but a symbol of his lineage and pride. Selling it signifies his willingness to let go of a tangible connection to his history for Della’s happiness.
Both the hair and the watch serve as symbols of the couple’s personal sacrifices, highlighting the story’s overarching theme of selfless love.
O. Henry is renowned for his distinctive narrative style, characterized by witty prose, relatable characters, and, most notably, twist endings. In “The Gift of the Magi,” he employs a third-person limited perspective, allowing readers to closely follow Della’s emotions and actions.
The narrative is infused with warmth and humor, drawing readers into the world of the protagonists. O. Henry’s use of a twist ending, a hallmark of his storytelling, adds depth to the narrative. The unexpected turn of events not only surprises readers but also reinforces the story’s central message about the true essence of gift-giving.
Historical and Cultural Context
The setting of the Story
“The Gift of the Magi” is set in New York City during the early 20th century. The bustling urban environment of the city serves as a backdrop to the intimate, domestic world of Della and Jim. Their modest apartment, with its shabby furnishings and limited amenities, stands in stark contrast to the opulence and grandeur often associated with the city.
This setting is significant as it underscores the couple’s financial constraints and the challenges they face in their daily lives. The urban landscape, with its myriad opportunities and temptations, amplifies the sacrifices they make for each other.
The early 20th century was a time of significant change and upheaval in the United States. The country was transitioning from an agrarian economy to an industrial one, leading to the rapid growth of cities and the emergence of a new urban working class.
While the economy was booming and there was a general sense of optimism, not everyone reaped the benefits. Many, like Della and Jim, found themselves grappling with financial challenges, living paycheck to paycheck in the burgeoning metropolis.
The socio-economic conditions of the time play a pivotal role in shaping the characters’ decisions. The value of a dollar was much more significant, and the couple’s financial constraints are a reflection of the broader economic disparities of the era. Their modest lifestyle, limited savings, and the sacrifices they make are indicative of the struggles faced by many working-class individuals and families during this period.
Furthermore, the cultural norms of the time placed a strong emphasis on gift-giving during the holiday season. This societal expectation, combined with their personal desire to express their love for each other, drives Della and Jim to make the sacrifices they do. Their actions are a testament to the enduring human spirit and the ability to find meaning and joy in the face of adversity.
- Sacrifice and Love: How do Della and Jim’s sacrifices illuminate the true nature of their love for each other? Do you believe their sacrifices were worth it?
- Material Value vs. Emotional Significance: How does the story challenge traditional notions of the value of gifts? In today’s materialistic society, how relevant is the story’s message?
- Irony: How does O. Henry use irony to enhance the story’s message? How did the ironic twist impact your understanding or appreciation of the story?
- Cultural and Societal Norms: How do societal expectations regarding gift-giving influence Della and Jim’s decisions? How do these norms compare to today’s society?
- Character Analysis: How do Della and Jim’s actions define their characters? Are there moments in the story where they display growth or change?
- Narrative Style: How does O. Henry’s unique narrative style contribute to the story’s impact? How does the twist ending shape your interpretation of the story’s themes?
- Historical Context: How do the socio-economic conditions of the early 20th century influence the story’s events and characters’ decisions? How might the story differ if set in today’s world?
- Symbolism: What do Della’s hair and Jim’s watch symbolize in the story? How do these symbols enhance the narrative’s themes?
- Themes of the Story: Which theme in “The Gift of the Magi” resonated most with you: love, sacrifice, or the true meaning of gift-giving? Why?
- Personal Reflection: Have you ever made a sacrifice for someone you love? How does your experience compare to Della and Jim’s actions in the story?
Further Reading and Resources
Recommendations for Other Works by O. Henry:
- “The Last Leaf”: A touching story about love, hope, and sacrifice set in Greenwich Village.
- “The Ransom of Red Chief”: A humorous tale about two kidnappers who get more than they bargained for.
- “The Cop and the Anthem”: A story about a homeless man’s attempts to get arrested so he can have shelter during the winter.
- “A Retrieved Reformation”: A tale of a safecracker who tries to turn over a new leaf when he falls in love.
- “After Twenty Years”: A story about friendship, loyalty, and the passage of time.
- “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant: A tale about pride, materialism, and the ironies of life.
- “A Christmas Memory” by Truman Capote: A heartwarming story about the bond between a young boy and his elderly cousin during the holiday season.
- “The Little Match Girl” by Hans Christian Andersen: A poignant tale about a poor girl’s dreams and the harsh realities of life.
- “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens: A classic novella about redemption, the spirit of Christmas, and the importance of kindness and generosity.
- The Gift of the Magi – Full Text: An online version of the complete story.
- O. Henry Museum: Dedicated to the life and works of O. Henry, located in Austin, Texas.