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“The Gift of the Magi” American short story

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    The American short story writer O. Henry was born under the name William Sydney Porter in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1862. His short stories are well known throughout the world; noted for their witticism, clever wordplay, and unexpected endings. Like many other writers, O. Henry’s early career wandered across different activities and professions before he found his calling as a short story writer. He started working in his uncle’s drugstore in 1879 and became a licensed pharmacist by the age of 19. His first creative expressions came while working in the pharmacy. he would sketch the townspeople that frequented the store and was admired for his artistic skills. O. Henry moved to Texas in March of 1882 hoping to get rid of his persistent cough.

    While there, he took up residence on a sheep ranch, learned shepherding, cooking, babysitting, and bits of Spanish and German from the many migrant farmhands. He was a good musician and had an active social life in Austin, playing both the guitar and mandolin. Over the next several years, Porter took a number of different jobs, from pharmacy to drafting, journalism and banking. But banking in particular was not to be O. Henry’s calling, he was quite careless with his bookkeeping and may have embezzled funds. In 1894, he was accused by his employer of embezzlement. He lost his job but was not indicted. As a lover of classic literature, O Henry had begun writing as a hobby. When he lost his banking job he moved to Houston in 1895 and started writing for the The Post, earning $25 per month. O. Henry collected ideas for his column by loitering in hotel lobbies and observing and talking to people there. He used this technique throughout his writing career.

    O. Henry’s prolific writing period began in 1902 in New York City, where he wrote 381 short stories. He wrote one story a week for The New York World Sunday Magazine for over a year. Some of his best and least known work is contained in Cabbages and Kings, his first collection of published stories, set in a central American town, in which sub-plots and larger plots are interwoven in an engaging manner. His second collection of stories, The Four Million, is based on the idea that there are only really 400 people worth knowing in New York City. O. Henry had an obvious affection for New York City, where many of his stories are set.

    Unfortunately, O. Henry’s personal tragedy was heavy drinking and by 1908 his health had deteriorated and his writing dropped off. He died in 1910 of cirrhosis of the liver, complications of diabetes and an enlarged heart. The funeral was held in New York City, but he was buried in North Carolina, the state where he was born. He was a gifted short story writer, and left us a rich legacy of great stories to enjoy.

    Porter moved to New York in 1902 and wrote for a number of publications including The New York Observer. It was in the first decade of the 20th Century that O. Henry wrote numerous short stories. O. Henry’s work is wide-ranging, and his characters can be found roaming the cattle-lands of Texas, exploring the art of the con-man, or investigating the tensions of class and wealth in turn-of-the-century New York. O. Henry had an inimitable hand for isolating some element of society and describing it with an incredible economy and grace of language. His style generally involved warm stories and his characters were usually ordinary people. Readers can easily identify with his themes and Porter’s often surprise endings keep the reader’s attention. Two themes that are trademarks of William Sydney Porter’s stories are his reversal of the narrative and his reversal of a character’s nature. In simple terms Porter begins a story in one direction and just when the reader thinks they can predict the ending, he sends it in a totally different direction. In his stories, people who are characterized as one thing, often are the complete opposite.

    An example of these two themes can be found in the short story The Princess and the Puma. Josefa O’Donnell, a princess, is a pistol wearing, roping, riding cowgirl, which is a total reversal of the princess archetype. In reading this story the reader thinks that the hero, Ripley Givens, will save the princess from a mountain lion that is crouched waiting to spring on her at a watering hole. Instead Porter sends the narrative in a whole new direction, where instead she supposedly saves him from the mountain lion and does not marry him at the end of the story. One technique that is typical of Porter is his surprise endings. In The Princess and the Puma, Josefa discovered that the mountain lion she shot was in fact a pet of Given’s farm and he was trying to save him, not her. In the end the reader discovered that the mountain lion had in fact been harassing several ranches and may not have been Given’s pet after all. These themes and techniques are typical of most of all Porter’s short stories. American Writers wrote, “The stories usually have a comic tone, to be sure, but distinctly uncomic possibilities often exist just at the fringes.”

    Although Porter was widely popular in his own time, today his reputation has suffered. Dictionary of Literary Biography: Volume 78, said “Perhaps the reputation of no other American writer has undergone a more rapid and drastic reversal than that of William Sydney Porter.” It also says that while “Porter commanded a readership of millions” he now is not as interesting to readers as he is to critics in today’s time. But although he may not have the popularity that he had in the 1900’s, his works are still considered literary classics are still read worldwide. Porter has given us many wonderful pieces but I believe that “The Gift of the Magi” is Porter at his best. This lovely story is about a struggling young couple and at Christmas time they each sell their most prized possession to buy a gift for the other. The husband treasured his old watch while his wife loved her long hair. He sold the watch to buy her combs and brushes while she cut and sold her hair to buy him a watch chain.

    “The Gift of the Magi” is a love story but is also a story of priorities, sacrifice and commitment. Porter is a master artist and with a feeling of affection endears the reader to this fictional couple and the messages he wants to convey.

    Other most favorite stories are:

    The Ransom of Red Chief, in which two men kidnap a boy of ten. The boy turns out to be so bratty and obnoxious that the desperate men ultimately pay the boy’s father $250 to take him back.

    The Cop and the Anthem: about a New York City hobo named Soapy, who sets out to get arrested so that he can be a guest of the city jail instead of sleeping out in the cold winter. Despite efforts at petty theft, vandalism, disorderly conduct, and “mashing” with a young prostitute, Soapy fails to draw the attention of the police. Disconsolate, he pauses in front of a church, where an organ anthem inspires him to clean up his life—and is ironically charged for loitering and sentenced to three months in prison.

    A Retrieved Reformation, which tells the tale of safecracker Jimmy Valentine, recently freed from prison. He goes to a town bank to case it before he robs it. As he walks to the door, he catches the eye of the banker’s beautiful daughter. They immediately fall in love and Valentine decides to give up his criminal career. He moves into the town, taking up the identity of Ralph Spencer, a shoemaker. Just as he is about to leave to deliver his specialized tools to an old associate, a lawman who recognizes him arrives at the bank. Jimmy and his fiancée and her family are at the bank, inspecting a new safe, when a child accidentally gets locked inside the airtight vault. Knowing it will seal his fate, Valentine opens the safe to rescue the child. However, much to Valentine’s surprise, the lawman denies recognizing him and lets him go.

    The Duplicity of Hargraves: A short story about a nearly destitute father and daughter’s trip to Washington, D.C.


    “The Gift of the Magi” was originally published in 1906, in O. Henry’s second collection of short stories, The four million. “The Gift of the Magi” is probably his greatest hit, and displays all of the major O. Henry traits in abundance. The story is about a young married couple and how they deal with the challenge of buying secret Christmas gifts for each other with very little money. Since it was first published, it’s buried itself deep in popular culture. It’s been retold and repackaged in countless stories, magazine columns, TV specials, musicals, movies, parodies, you name it. It’s also one of those classic “Christmas stories” that people usually read during the holidays.

    The story opens with $1.87. That’s all Della Dillingham Young has to buy a present for her beloved husband, Jim. And the next day is Christmas. Faced with this situation, Della bursts into tears on the couch, which gives the author the opportunity to tell us a bit more about the situation of Jim and Della: they live in a shabby flat and they’re poor, but they love each other.

    Once Della’s recovered herself, she goes to a mirror to let down her hair and examine it. Della’s beautiful, brown, knee-length hair is one of the two great treasures of the poor couple. The other is Jim’s gold watch.

    She leaves the flat and walks to Madame Sofronie’s hair goods shop, where she sells her hair for twenty bucks. Now she has $21.87 cents. With her new funds, Della is able to find Jim the perfect present: an elegant platinum watch chain for his watch. It’s $21.

    Excited by her gift, Della returns home and tries to make her now-short hair presentable (with a curling iron). She’s not convinced Jim will approve, but she did what she had to do to get him a good present. When she finishes with her hair, she gets to work preparing coffee and dinner. Jim arrives at 7pm to find Della waiting by the door and stares fixedly at her, not able to understand that Della’s hair is gone. Della can’t understand quite what his reaction means.

    After a little while, Jim snaps out of it and gives Della her present, explaining that his reaction will make sense when she opens it. Della opens it and cries out in joy. Jim has given her the set of fancy combs she’s wanted for ages, only now she has no hair for them. Jim nurses Della out of her sobs. Once she’s recovered she gives Jim his present, holding out the watch chain, Jim smiles. He sold his watch to buy Della’s combs, he explains He recommends they put away their presents and have dinner.

    As they do so, the narrator brings the story to a close by pronouncing that Della and Jim are the wisest of everyone who gives gifts. They are the magi. We can see that although Jim and Della are now left with gifts that neither one can use, they realize how far they are willing to go to show their love for each other, and how priceless their love really is.

    Character Analysis

    Della: One Devoted Woman
    Della is the loving, warm, selfless, and occasionally hysterical heroine of the story. Della’s very poor. She spends all of her days in a cramped flat, she’s a homemaker. Della basically lives for one person: Jim, her husband. She’s spent a lot of the time leading up to Christmas just thinking of what to get him: She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. As you might gather from that, Della throws just about every bit of energy she has into being good to Jim. She’s been saving for months just to round up money for a Christmas present He may not be bringing in much money, but Jim is the best husband in her mind. He deserves the absolute best, which is why she’s so set on getting him the perfect present: “Something fine and rare and sterling – something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim” Della is willing to go to any length to achieve this goal, and ends up selling her one prized possession – her hair – to do it. Although she sheds a tear or two over the hair, really it doesn’t seem to affect her that much. She doesn’t even think it’s much of a choice. She has to get Jim a present: “I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It’ll grow out again – you won’t mind, will you? I just had to do it”

    In fact, the thing that seems to bother Della most about losing her hair is that Jim likes it so much. She’s worried he won’t find her pretty anymore (though she doesn’t really have anything to worry about). She barely seems to think of herself at all. That’s devotion. Della’s so devoted; in fact, you might be a little bit bothered. It might be difficult to define Della apart from Jim: she lives for her husband. But it looks like her husband might live only for her too. After all, he sacrifices his watch – which is a precious object that’s been passed down through his family for generations (and won’t grow back) – to get her a gift. And given how humble their circumstances are, and how hard his work must be, it’s not clear what else he would have to live for besides Della. So is Jim just as devoted to Della as Della is to Jim? It’s likely that he is.

    If that’s the case, though Della and Jim definitely play different roles, they’re in a relationship of equality, and equal devotion. That makes Della’s own devotion less strange, and kind of wonderful – like it’s supposed to be. Della and Jim’s utter devotion to each other is the whole point of the story, after all. It’s because of this devotion that both sacrifice their only prized possessions to get gifts for each other. That selflessness is what makes them wise givers – magi – and what teaches us the lesson about the meaning of giving that the narrator wants to get across.

    Still, it’s true that we don’t actually ever get to go inside Jim’s head and see whether he loves her as much as she loves him. So if you want to be skeptical of the narrator’s heartwarming ending and be cynical about Della, we suppose you can.

    But you might still find one more complaint to make about Della. She might seem unrealistically emotional. The very first thing we see her do is collapse into a sobbing fit on the couch. And once she gets Jim’s present, she shrieks in ecstasy only to burst into tears almost immediately afterwards

    And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat Not only that, throughout the story Della just seems on edge, as if she were continuously overexcited. Do you ever notice how Della never just walks or turns, she “suddenly whirls”? As in “suddenly she whirled from the window” or “with a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door” Then there’s the time when she “leap[s] up like a little singed cat and crie[s] ‘Oh, oh!'” just because she wants Jim to have his present so badly

    Yes, Della’s a little on the excitable side, to say the least. You might find it particularly irritating that the narrator seems to think that’s part of what it means to be “feminine” (let’s remember that O. Henry wrote this story in 1906). Still, in our opinion, Della’s excitement is more something to make you chuckle. It makes her more lovable. Della’s just head over heels in love. That inflates the importance of just about everything, and makes it rather easy to swing from the heights of happiness to the depths of despair in a matter of seconds. Can’t we all relate to that a bit?

    (As for Della’s sudden eruption of wails over Jim’s present, our opinion is that there’s a reason for that too: it’s only at that moment that it really hits her that her hair is actually gone.) Jim: Della’s husband

    Jim’s job is not so great. He’s the only breadwinner for the Dillingham Young family, and it seems he works long hours, but his salary is low. And it recently went from bad to worse: whereas he used to make $30 a week he’s now down to just $20. He and Della are struggling just to pay the expenses of their small flat. So if Jim happens to seem a little tired, serious, overworked, and perhaps a tad underweight, there’s a good reason for it.

    He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two–and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.

    The one thing that keeps Jim going is his love for Della. She’s his Della .We don’t get half as much exposure to his feelings as we do for Della’s, but all evidence points to him being just as devoted to her as she is to him. Just like Della, Jim gives up his most precious possession to find a perfect gift for the person he loves. And it’s not just because of her looks, even though she worries about them:

    “Don’t make any mistake, Dell,” he said, “about me. I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less.”

    Why does Jim love Della so much? Probably in part because she loves him so much.

    You may have noticed that Della is also a little jumpy. Jim’s definitely the more levelheaded one in the relationship. While she reacts to his present with shrieks and wails, he just reacts to hers by rolling onto the couch and smiling

    In The Gift of the Magi, Jim and Delia express their love in the total sacrifice they make in order to buy each other a special gift for Christmas. Each gives up his or her most prized possession, of which they have only one, in order to obtain money to buy the other a special gift. Jim and Della sacrificed their most treasured possessions to buy gifts for each other. Della sold away her beautiful, cascading hair to buy a platinum fob chain of rare distinction for her husband’s gold watch. Jim too parted with his most favorite watch to buy expensive combs of tortoise shells for his wife’s When the two exchange their gifts and discover that each had sacrificed their most precious possession, they each laugh and decide to put the gifts away until the hair grows back and the watch could be recovered.

    Their gifts were perfect because each gave from their hearts which is the only true gift. O Henry illustrates the nature of sacrificial love through the couple’s behavior, and when they discover that they have each bought a useless gift for the other, now in light of their original sacrifice, they are content to bask in the love expressed by the others action to provide a special gift for the one they love. Their love is pure, true and deep. Jim and Delila love each other not because of material wealth or for what the other owns, but for the depth of love that each possesses for the other. The fact that Jim and Delia are capable of making such a great sacrifice for love indicates that their union, their marriage is based on a lasting virtue, and not on superficial or temporary grounds. Jim and Delia share a love that is both timeless and eternal, and O Henry uses the couple to illustrate the depth of love that is expressed by the three wise men who knelt at the foot of the manger that bore the Christ child. He compares the love of this couple to the all powerful love that is expressed in the birth of the Savior in the Christian tradition of Christmas when the three wise men paid homage to him.

    Madame Sofronie
    Madame Sofronie is the owner of a hair shop, which, we are told, sells “hair goods of all kinds” She is “large,” “white,” and “chilly” Her manner is direct and to-the-point: she doesn’t give off any signs of being impressed by Della’s gorgeous hair, and casually offers to buy it for $20.

    Madame Sofronie’s attitude creates a sharp contrast to that of Della and Jim. For both of them, Della’s hair is a prized possession – her only prized possession – and Della’s sale of it amounts to an enormous sacrifice. None of this matters to Madame Sofronie, for whom it’s just another business transaction, which will perhaps fetch a bit more profit. You could say she represents “the cold, uncaring world” which exists outside the haven of love Della and Jim have built for themselves. She also represents a very different way of valuing things – purely for the money they fetch.

    I. The theme of the story

    1. The Gift of the Magi Theme of Love
    “Gift of the Magi” is the story of a poor, young couple whose love for each other is the most important thing in their lives. Such is their love that they’re led to sacrifice their most valuable possessions to find Christmas gifts for each other. The warm home they make together contrasts with the drabness of their poverty and the dreary world outside. Their love seems to know no bounds, though Della (the wife) worries about how her sacrifice will affect her husband because of how it affects her looks. If ever there were a story with the message that all you need to be happy is love, this is it.

    2. The Gift of the Magi Theme of Sacrifice

    The two main characters in “Gift of the Magi” are a husband and wife who give up their most precious possessions to be able to afford gifts for each other on Christmas Eve. The story seems to be all about sacrifice. We watch Della go through the process of deciding to make the sacrifice and going through with it, only to discover that her husband has made the same sacrifice. The story’s narrator assures us that in their willingness to give up all they have, they have proven themselves the wisest of all gift-givers. It might remain unclear, though, exactly what their sacrifice has accomplished, or how it has affected them.

    3. The Gift of the Magi Theme of Wealth

    In many ways, “Gift of the Magi” is a story about what it means for something to be valuable. Does something’s value lie in how much money it is worth? Or are other things more valuable than money? The main characters are very poor – this is repeatedly emphasized – and yet the story suggests that their love for each other makes them very rich. It is that love, which motivates them to give up the only things of monetary (or personal) value they have to buy presents for each other. Perhaps their poverty is what enables them to appreciate what really matters. 4. The Gift of the Magi Theme of Women and Femininity

    The main character of “Gift of the Magi” is a woman named Della. Loveable as she is, at times, Della is hysterical, often overreacting, a characteristic that the narrator identifies as “feminine.” Della’s complete and single-minded devotion to her husband could raise the question of whether the love in their relationship is between equals or based on a difference in power between the two. II. The ending of the story

    1. The successful of the ending
    O. Henry is known for his “twist endings,” and the ending of “The Gift of the Magi” is probably the most famous of them all. At the end of the story Della cuts and sells her hair to buy Jim a chain for his watch, and Jim sells his watch to buy Della combs for her hair. Here we have a classic case of irony. The determination to find the perfect gift leads each character to make a sacrifice; that sacrifice makes each gift useless. The result is the exact opposite of what Jim and Della intended. What makes this ending so bittersweet is that it only comes about because they acted on their intentions: their gifts wouldn’t have been useless if they hadn’t given up their prize possessions. And since we follow only Della in the story, we don’t know what has happened until the very end, during the exchange itself. It’s the sudden, unexpected irony, which only strikes at the very end that makes the ending a twist.

    Now that we’ve talked about what makes the ending a twist, let’s ask another question: how do we feel about the ending? From one perspective, it’s disastrous. Jim and Della seem much better off before the gift exchange. At the end, they have exchanged their most prized possessions to buy each other gifts that are now useless. Their original possessions – the watch and the hair – were valuable on their own. Not only that, their original possessions seem more precious because they were theirs – Jim’s watch was a family heirloom passed down from his granddad, and Della’s hair was literally a part of Della. Their gifts, on the other hand, are just new store-bought things that have no special connection to either person. Since each person wanted to buy the other the perfect gift, this means they have both failed colossally.

    But then there’s the narrator’s perspective in that last paragraph, according to which the gifts they’ve given each other are the “wisest” gifts of all, the “gifts of the magi.” If we agree, then of course they’ve succeeded in what they wanted to do. Both Jim and Della have shown that they’re willing to sacrifice the most valuable thing they have to give something to the other. That makes their “useless” gifts incredibly valuable after all: the selfless love each feels for the other is embodied in those gifts. As long as they have the gifts, they’ll be able to remember it. That kind of thing can’t be bought. And it makes the gifts even more special and personal than what they replaced. The thoughts, noble actions of this couple has made the Christmas gift their significance becomes invaluable and they are the wisest.

    Which leads us to another point. Before the exchange, Jim and Della each had one prize possession. Each possession was valuable on its own and belonged to each person individually. The watch was Jim’s, and the hair was Della’s. Both possessions are sacrificed. In the exchange, each gains something new, which doesn’t have any sentimental value as a token of their love for each other. That love isn’t something they have as individuals, it’s something they share together. So in the gift exchange, the two of them come closer together in a very concrete way. The Gift of the Magi ” by O. Henry is a wonderful story of love , a love of beauty and beautiful in poverty . One of the success factors of this story is that the author has created a story full of unexpected elements , especially in the end . In the first part of the story , the reader knows the thoughts , decisions and actions of the character Della . From these passages the reader was surprised by the thoughts and decisions are definitive sacrifice of an ideal woman as frail as Della .

    But the biggest surprise for the reader ( and the character of Della again ) that the actions of Jim . Before that , the reader ( and the characters anymore Della ) were unaware of the actions and sacrifices of Jim , just do not know that Jim Della , sacrifice ” their precious ones ” for ” the precious someone you love . ” The surprise that makes the reader go from emotion to emotion the other a very natural way to finally break with tears of happiness great lover of stories . Both have hi quietly but decisively sell the most precious things to her that you mean to buy items for each day of Christmas . Moreover, the gifts that are purchased to honor the beauty of the ” precious things have been sacrificed for love .” They understand each other’s precious things and dare to sacrifice ” their precious ones ” for ” a precious loved one .” They sacrificed so for them , the most important and most precious material that is not love and who you love . Perhaps no sacrifice in love ‘s sacrifice better , there is no way to express love better expression of that love : simple, sincere and emotional . Surprise is a common approach in the short story , but little surprises us is as strong as the emotion surprise in ” The Gift of the Magi ” by O. Henry .

    2. The message of the story

    The author O.Henry portrayed the message of how the giving of gifts requires a lot of hard work, and also incessant searching to find the perfect gift for either your friend, or family. And the gifts will usually require you to sacrifice something special to you, either it be money or a valued possession. A gift doesn’t always have to be physical, maybe if you just cut a little time off work and spent it with your friends, it could be the best gift they might have ever received. A true gift is something that will actually impact a person’s life, it will create a connection between you and the receiver. The best gift you could possibly give will always come from within you. Suppose you’re looking for a gift at a store, and you suddenly come across something that catches your eye. Inside, you will know that this is the gift that you have been looking for. A good gift doesn’t have to cost much at all.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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