Literary Analysis-The Gift of Magi
The “Gift of Magi” is a story authored by O. Henry. The story features two main characters, Della and her twenty two year old husband Mr. James Dillingham Young. The couple is simply referred to as Jim and Della respectively within the story. The story has a very interesting turn of events clustered with emotions of love and care. It eventually culminates into a surprising end where the characters exchange Christmas gifts acquired after selling their most precious possessions for the sake of offering each other Christmas presents.
The story starts on a Christmas Eve with Della bursting into tears on the couch. Della is saddened by the fact that she has only been able to save a measly $1.87 dollars from her grocery and shopping money in order to get money to buy her beloved husband a gift. Despite all the humiliation from constant haggling and bargaining she still has not been able to get enough to buy Jim a present that would really befit him (Shmoop 2). She feels that she cannot get Jim a present worthy enough to express her love for him.
This first encounter with the couple portrays the poor state of life that the couple is sharing. The young’s have sunk into poverty and hard times. The description of their apartment in the story shows a poor state of life characterized by a poor pay amounting to $20 dollars a week and high expenditure on basics. Jim’s salary has shrunk from $30 dollars to $20 dollars per week and they are barely trying to survive on the $12 dollars that is left after paying for their rent which amounts to $8 dollars per week.
Della’s deep contemplation and sentiments of helplessness show how much she loves and appreciates Jim, and as a result she would like to offer him the best. Her deep concern and love can be seen in these two quotes: “Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim (Henry 2).” This statement indicates how deeply concerned Della is about the situation. “Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him: Something fine and rare and sterling, something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim (Henry 2).” This statement shows how much Della values Jim and it portrays her deep love for him.
The portrayal of Della’s concerns is used to build the theme of love that greatly features within the story. It also serves to indicate the desperate state of poverty that the couple lives in.After contemplation and crying Della powders her cheeks and takes a look at her self in the pier glass by the window. At this point in the story the readers learn that the couple has two most important and priced possessions-Della’s hair which is long and beautiful and Jim’s watch which has been a family possession passed down through generations from fathers to their sons.
The narrator in the story emphasizes the worth of these priced possessions by indicating that they would be coveted by even the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon-greatly known for their wealth. It is while viewing herself in the mirror that Della gets a brilliant idea on how to acquire money to get Jim a gift that is worth the love she has for him. Della leaves the house hurriedly for Madame Sofronie’s store. Madame Sofronie retails hair products and Della decides to sell her hair to Madame Sofronie. She quickly accepts the sell for a twenty dollar price. Della’s hair is shaved and she gets her $20 dollars (Bookrags 1).
She quickly hurries off to the shops to seek a present for Jim. Della loves her hair because we are told she shed tears at the thought of selling it, but hurried off to conclude the sell before her mind could change. This strong resolution done for the love of Jim is a great sacrifice and it is at this point in the story that the second strongest theme of the story develops-the theme of sacrifice which is born out of love-the earlier theme in the story (Porter 1). While at the shops Della buys Jim a platinum chain for his watch, a gift that would increase not only the value of the other priced possession of the family-watch-but will also make Jim feel proud and happy.
When she gets back at home Della tries to fix her short hair so as not upset Jim-she knows she may have messed her hair and looks, but she knows that it was worthwhile. Della gets the gift ready and goes ahead to prepare supper while she awaits Jim. When Jim arrives she finds Della waiting for him by the door and ready to offer her the gift. However, Jim seems to have perplexed look on her face which Della does not seem to understand. She quickly attributes it the fact that she has cut short her hair which Jim may have treasured so much because it enhanced her looks. She quickly approaches Jim to explain why she had cut her hair.
But Jim still looks surprised, and Della cannot quite understand the cause of the surprise. Della tries to explain to Jim that he need not worry because her hair grew fast and soon she will have it back.As readers we are also in the dark at this point concerning the surprise, but the truth unfolds when Jim presents hid gift to Della. Jim reassures Della that he still loves her no matter what. Jim then proceeds to offer her a gift box containing her Christmas gift. Della opens the box and she is gripped with a moment of ecstatic joy, which quickly turns into hysterical wails and tears. In the box lay her long coveted objects-pairs of tortoise shell combs.
Della is happy, but comes to a sad realization that the she has no hair to wear the combs. She has nothing much left to do but to comfort Jim and herself by stating that he need not worry because her hair grows fast. This part of the story also strongly portrays the theme of love within the story. In the narration we learn that Jim is overburdened with the responsibilities of a family only at twenty two, and he has many needs that he cannot fulfill for himself and his family as portrayed by the quote: “Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two--and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves. (Henry 3).”
Jim had no gloves and he was in bad need of a new overcoat, but he was able to forego all his needs to get Della her coveted combs which were definitely expensive. His actions portray both love and sacrifice-both of which are the main themes within the story. Amidst the confusion and rush of emotions Della remembers her fob chain gift which she presents to Jim. Jim may have been equally surprised because from the narration he was only able to respond with a smile. He quickly offers an explanation to Della stating that he had sold the watch to buy her the combs. He then proceeds to tell Della that they should put away their Christmas gifts and save them for a later date.
This is indeed a surprising turn of events that is so interesting and emotional. The couple displays great love for each other, because they both show a desire to offer their partners the best gift possible. However, their financial constraints leave them with least discretionary space and they have no choice but to sacrifice the only possessions that they treasure in their lives-Della’s hair and Jim’s watch. There was no greater sacrifice that would have been offered apart from what the two did. Della particularly displays great love for Jim, because she sacrifices not only her pride to shamelessly haggle and humiliate herself in grocery purchases, but further shaves her hair and sacrifices her good looks to secure Jim a present that would show her great love for Jim.
A look at the theme of love and sacrifice in the story
The theme of love and sacrifice that emanates from the love is widely played out throughout the story-line. The story centers on a couple (Jim and Della) whose love for each other seems to be the greatest treasure in their lives because each one of them offers up for sale some of their most priced possessions that they highly to treasure for the sake of expression their love for one another (Shmoop 4). Despite the risks, humiliation and costs of the sacrifice each of them is ready to lose what they have to express their love.
Their actions leave no doubt as to whether they love each other. For example Della offers her hair for sell while knowing that the idea would not please Jim and her self but she has to go a head and do it. Her decisiveness and expression of doubt on the decision can be inferred from her words: “If Jim doesn't kill me," she said to herself, "before he takes a second look at me, he'll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do--oh! What could I do with a dollar and eighty- seven cents?" "Please God make him think I am still pretty (Henry 3).”
This not only displays love, but also great sacrifice for the love. On the other hand, Jim has needs that may be more pressing, like gloves and a new overcoat, but because he loves Della he has to sacrifice his by leaving out his own needs in order to get her the desires of her life. His sacrifice is as a result of the love that he has for Della (Shmoop 5). The author uses the story of the gifts and the display of sacrifice to strongly bring out the theme of love which in turn brings out the resultant theme of sacrifice.
Bookrags (2011),. The Gift of Magi Study Guide, retrieved on 19th March, 2011 from http://www.bookrags.com/studyguide-giftmagi/themes.html
O. Henry. (1992),. The gift of the Magi and other short stories; Dover thrift edition series, Courier Dover Publications
Porter, S. W. (2010),.The Gift of Magi Study Guide, retrieved on 19th March, 2011 from http://www.cummingsstudyguides.net/Guides4/OHenry.html
Shmoop (2010),. The Gift of the Magi: Shmoop Literature Guide, Shmoop University Incorporation.