The Gift of Magi is a short story written by an American short story writer, William Sydney Porter. He has written his literary works under the pen name of O’ Henry. This story was first published in 1905.


It is a sentimental tale of a financially upset couple. Both of them sold out their prized possessions in order to buy presents for each other for Christmas. In the end, their gifts become useless.

This story is written in the 19th century highlighting the economic disturbance of those times. It also throws light on the prevailing materialism in society. One can also find it a commentary on the sufferings and struggles of the middle class trying to overcome the upset financial situation.


Della Dillingham, holding 1.87 dollars in her hand wanders here and there in the room. She is worried because it’s Christmas Eve and she needs to buy a gift for her loving and caring husband to show that she loves her too.  Also, she feels like crying because she doesn’t know what to do.

Moreover, the couple lives in a small and simple apartment. James Young Dillingham is a gentleman and husband of Della. He works in an office in the city. Recently he was receiving 30 dollars a week which has drastically fallen to 20 dollars a week and due to which the family upsets a bit.

The only pride with the Dillingham family is the gold watch James is having which is believed to be given to his father by his grandfather. On the other side, Della’s most beautiful thing is her hair. James loves her long brown hair.

Della is thinking about how to give James a gift. Meantime she comes in front of the mirror in her room. The narrator describes it as not a good mirror as it is thin and gets very difficult for anyone to catch his glimpse in it. However, Della is a thin girl so she easily catches a view of herself.

In all of her nervousness, she opens her hair which falls to its full length to her knees. She has beautiful brown hair which shines brightly. Upon seeing her hair, an idea probes in her mind. She rushes to the stairs and goes down to the street and sees the name of the shop on the street Mrs Sofronie.

She runs towards the shop and goes inside and asks Mrs Sofronie whether she will buy her hair or not. She tells her to open her hair. When she sees her brown hair fall like a stream from top to her knees she at once says 20 dollars.

After the haircut, Della goes to the market to buy a gift for James. Now she has 21 dollars and 87 cents. She crosses the whole market and a number of shops until she finds a beautiful watch chain. When she looks at it she at once thinks of buying it. Eventually, she buys it and thinks like it was made for James. She returns home happily.

Similarly, she is smiling and blushing that how happy and delighted James will be when he sees this beautiful watch chain as he was already in need of one.

Subsequently, she comes home and straightly goes to her room. Sitting in her room she thinks about her hair cut which seems more like a schoolboy cut. On this, she becomes slightly upset as it was her most beautiful and dear possession.  Due to this, she also imagines how badly James will feel when he comes to know her hair is gone. Then, she keeps waiting in her room for James to return home.

At 7 o’clock, James arrives and she listens to his steps approaching the room. She excitedly goes downstairs and stops there as James looks at her strangely because of her haircut. She tells him not to look at her like that because his weird look is hurting her. She asks whether James loves her in long hair and will not love her like this.

Upon hearing this from Della, James comes near her and says nothing can lessen his love for her. Then, he expresses his disappointment by showing the gift he bought for her. At that time, he says to Della if she sees what he has brought for her as a gift she would feel the same as he felt. Della steps towards the gift and as her white finger opens the box tears come out of her eyes.

There are two beautiful jeweled combs which she has seen in a shop and wanted it but she couldn’t buy it. James says that he sold his gold watch to buy this for her. Now her hair is gone so they are of no worth or use for her. Della, though upset, builds courage and says to James to forget about these gifts as they are worthy of not our use for now, and let’s enjoy our Christmas night as we are losing time.



One of the themes of this story written by O’ Henry is the revelation of endless love between the couple. They both sell their valuable things to buy gifts for one another and to show how much they love each other. Della sells her hair and buys a watch chain for her husband and lover as he has not got a good chain with his family watch. So she sells her hair, a beautiful thing for her love.

One the other side James sells his family watch given to him by his father to buy a gift for her wife. This shows and proves how much they love each other. In the end, the love they are having for one another triumphs over the material things.


O’ Henry has tactfully interwoven the theme of inner and outer beauty. Throughout the story, one can see the narrator praising Della’s hair and Jim’s watch. Similarly, there are also the glimpses of outer beauty occurring in the prized gifts they bought for each other.

However, all those things possess only outer beauty as those are only material objects. The very inner beauty lies in both characters; the love they are having for each other. Those material objects also reflect the love and selflessness they are having. In the end, the objects of outer beauty fail but love gains victory.


Readers may find the spark of selflessness in both characters. This very element leads them to sacrifice. Della, being a woman of beautiful hairs, the only possession she has, sacrificed it for her love. She just wanted to see delightfulness on Jim’s face.

On the other hand, Jim also sacrificed his prized possession, passed down to him from generations for her wife. He wanted to give Della happiness on the Eve of Christmas. For this, he sold his watch.



She is the caring, beautiful, and loving wife of Jim Dillingham. She calls him Jim shortly and with love. Moreover, she has only prized possession that is her beautiful hair with the length from head to knees. Readers may explore most of the story through her perspective.

Similarly, she is described as an affectionate and selfless character. From the start of the story, she seems worried about how to purchase a gift of Christmas for her husband. She tried her best to save even a single penny. But in the end, money is not enough to buy any gift for Jim. So, she thought it best to cut her hair in order to buy him a fob chain. This shows her deep love for Jim and her selfless nature.


James Young Dillingham called by Della as Jim is a gentleman of age 22 but has a burden of responsibilities of running home and family. Nevertheless the heavy burden, he seems content, quiet, and good-natured.

Just like his wife he has only prized possession of a gold watch passed down from generations. Similar in manner to his wife, he sold his prized possession and bought a gift of tortoise comb for Della. This describes his love and cares towards Della. 


She is the owner of the hair shop to which Della sells her hair. She is described as a brusque and cold lady. Moreover, she so much to the point that she didn’t waste time in evaluating and paid twenty dollars for the hairs of Della.


The Gift of Magi is a short story written by an American short story writer, William Sydney Porter. He has written his literary works under the pen name of O’ Henry. This story was first published in 1905.

This story recounts the endless love between the couple, the way they sacrificed their prized possessions for each other. On one hand, Della cut her hair to make enough money to buy a fob chain for Jim. On the other hand, Jim sells his gold watch, passed down from generations, just to buy a beautiful comb for Della.

However, their sacrifices also elaborate foolishness. They bought one other beautiful and prized gifts but that turns out in vain. Tortoise comb is useless without Della’s hair. In the same way, the fob chain is useless with Jim’s gold watch. This alludes to the very gifts brought by wise men for Jesus on his birth. Similarly, those gifts were also useless for Christ but all that matters is love and sincerity with which gifts are bought.

The couple expressing the way of love is also weird. This depicts the materialism that was prevalent in those times. The 19th century was the age of industrialism which sprouts out materialism, economic disturbance, and class consciousness. Readers can find the aforementioned glimpses when both characters chose materials to express love for each other.

Moreover, the view of their apartment also mirrors the middle-class society of those times. Jim was overburdened with financial responsibilities. Though, he struggles a lot but couldn’t stabilize his family.

Despite low income, they have maintained to furnish their apartments so the people can socialize with them. This highlights the concept of that society that everyone socializes with materials, not with humans. Emotions and feelings were kept aside.

O’ Henry seems to be rebuking the concept of materialism. He alludes to the Queen of Sheba and King of Solomon to represent the jewels and wealth by comparing them with the possessions of Della and Jim. He is of the view that strong emotions are attached to those things; Della’s hairs and Jim’s watch. However, they sacrificed it for love.

In this way, he criticizes society’s proclivity towards material gains. He seems to advocate the value of sincerity and love that society lacked. Though those three kings also bought precious presents, their emotions and sincerity are counted anyway.

In the end, O’ Henry calls both of the characters wise. There he makes it explicit though both of them sold out things to buy gifts for Christmas. However, the only thing that beheld the couple and remained until the end was love.

O’ Henry uses the situation of Christmas to highlight that occasion not just means exchange of gifts. Rather it means unity, sincerity, and love. Even without materials, you can celebrate it if one’s heart is pure.


The title of this story can be elaborated with two perspectives.

Firstly, the title is a biblical allusion of three wise men or kings who brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh for Christ on his birth in Bethlehem.

Likewise, O’ Henry develops this idea of precious gifts and love via Della and Jim’s character. Della and Jim have sacrificed their most prized possessions for one another so they are relatable with aforementioned wise men.


The story takes place in a tiny apartment which costs eight dollars a month. However, the location and time period is not explicitly mentioned. But one can assume that the story is set in the early 1900s in New York.


O’ Henry has used the following symbols in the story:


In the story, Della’s hair represents her youth and beauty. O’ Henry uses incredible imagery to describe her hair by depicting its length to her knees. Besides these, Della’s hair is also a symbol of love and sacrifice that she did for her husband Jim. She wanted to give him a precious present to show her love. However, she didn’t have enough money, so she cut her hair just to buy Jim a precious gift.


Jim’s gold watch has passed down to him through generations. This expresses the sentiments of Jim’s ties to his family. Moreover, it also symbolizes his love for Della and the time he spent working to support the household.

Nevertheless, the memories attached to the gold watch he sold it out to buy a beautiful gift for his wife Della. Given that, it represents the unstable financial position of the young couple as well.


O’ Henry has used incredible imagery at different places to mirror the exact view before the readers. At first, O’ Henry describes the mortification of Della of being a miser. He draws colour imagery to paint the image of Della’s cheek that “one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony”.

Moreover, O’ Henry has tactfully depicted the doleful feelings of Della that readers are fully able to understand it. The narrator says “She stood by the window and looked out dully at a grey cat walking a grey fence in a grey backyard”. This provides glimpses of her sorrows and disappointment as she hasn’t enough money to buy a gift for Jim at Christmas.

Similarly, O’ Henry shows the apartment of a young couple. He uses pun on certain words to contradict the outlook of Della for her house. He describes “

It did not exactly beggar description“. However, then he uses the phrase “mendicancy squad” which also means beggar.

In this way, he shows that the apartment is tiny and in the possession of a financially unstable couple but they have managed to keep it well with all they have.

Likewise, O’ Henry pinpoints Della’s meagre situation by saying “On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat”. This depicts how poor she is surviving a little.

Further, Della’s hair and Jim’s watch worth is described by comparing it with Queen of Sheba and King of Solomon. By this O’ Henry describes how Della makes Sheba envious by the charm of her hairs. Even King Solomon’s treasures lose their worth when Jim passes by with his watch.



O’ Henry has applied verbal irony when describing the only prized possessions of both characters.  Firstly, he compares Della’s hairs with the jewels of Queen of Sheba that even Sheba would be envious of the beauty of her hair. On the other hand, he describes King Solomon despite the wealth that he would be anxious to hold Jim’s watch in his hands.

However, in the end, both sacrificed their only prized possessions to buy gifts for each other. But those gifts; a fob chain is useless without Jim’s gold watch. Likewise, the tortoise comb is useless without Della’s hair. Their gifts are useless just like the gifts of those wise men who brought precious gifts for baby Jesus. But all that matters is love, intimacy, and sacrifice of those gifts.


It happens when Della opens up Jim’s present finds a tortoise comb. For a short moment, she forgets that she had cut her hair and now it is useless for her.

Also, it may happen when readers beforehand know that Jim has sold his watch to buy the present for Della.


It occurs when Della didn’t understand the expression of Jim’s face. She thought his love was gone with her hair. However, the reason was the wastage of Jim’s present for Della as she cut her hair.

Readers beforehand understood the weird expression of Jim’s face. But Della failed to comprehend that.


The title alludes to three wise men or kings who brought precious gifts for Jesus on his birth. Moreover, O’ Henry alludes to “Queen of Sheba” and “King of Solomon” to describe the worth of both character’s possessions.


Hyperbole occurs when the narrator describes the prized possessions of both characters. Firstly he compares Della’s hair with “Queen of Sheba” and how envious she becomes after seeing Della’s hairs despite Her Majesty’s jewels.

Secondly, he exaggerates the worth of Jim’s watch with the anxiousness of “King Solomon” just to catch a glimpse of it. He would forget all his treasures before this watch.


One may find the narrator personifying Della’s haggling and desire of saving money with the power of bulldozers. The narrator says “Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer”. In the same manner, the narrator personifies Della’s embarrassment for being parsimonious with the burning “one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony”.

Moreover, the narrator beautifies Della’s hair by metaphorically relating it to waterfall “Down rippled the brown cascade”

Similarly, one can see similes when the narrator describes the hair cut of Della resembling “like a truant schoolboy”. Moreover, with the help of simile narrator depicts her look after the hair cut “like a Coney Island chorus girl”

Genre & Tone

The Gift of Magi is a short story containing the elements of realistic fiction. It is told through a rueful and affectionate tone.


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