An Analysis of the Literary Devices in The Gift of Magi, a Short Story by O. Henry
William Sydney Porter is an American short-story writer, commonly known as O. Henry, is born on September 11, 1862 in Greensboro, North Carolina. In 1887, he got married and began and to write freelance sketches. Years later, he founded the Rolling Stone; but it failed. After his wife’s death, William Porter was imprisoned in Columbus, Ohio. During his three years in prison, he would write short adventure stories in prison set in Texas and Central America to finance her daughter. He was released in prison in 1902 and went to New York City that became most of his short story’s settings. His tales or short stories often portray the lives of the people living in New York. He often expressed his characters personalities through humor, grim or irony and his endings are often surprise endings. His most famous work is “The Gift of Magi”.
The Gift of Magi is O. Henry’s most popular work written in December 1905. He wrote this for his Christmas classic edition. It is called The Gift of Magi for it refers to the three wise men that brought Jesus Christ wise gifts and thus created the act of giving gift during Christmas. The story is all about a poor married couple who cannot afford to buy presents for each other. Della is a devoted wife who loves her husband very much. A night before Christmas, she found herself crying with all the savings she has. It was only one dollar and eighty-seven cents to be exact. Since she cannot allow Christmas to pass by without giving Jim anything, she decided to go to Madame Sofronie to sell her precious hair, the greatest possession she has. Her hair gave her 20 dollars, enough for her to buy Jim a Christmas present. She cooked a meal for Jim, but when Jim came home, he was so shocked seeing Della with a short hair. Della told Jim that it’ll grow back sooner or later and she did that so she can buy him a present. In the same manner. Jim sold his greatest possession, his watch which he still inherited from his grandfather to buy Della the combs and clips she’s been dreaming for a long time. At the end of the story. Della and Jim are compared to the three wise men. O. Henry is trying to tell us that the value of the gift is not in the gift itself, it is in the giver. Both Jim and Della gave up their greatest possession out of their love for each other.
Della is portrayed as a devoted, loving, warm, selfless wife and is basically the protagonist in the story. She is financially poor and she spends most of her time at home. Since the story was made in the time of O. Henry or in the 1900’s, to be exact, he portrayed Della just like the women from that time, spending most of their times on household chores and serving their husbands. For me, the way O. Henry gave colors to her character is just a bit much. You can find two problems on Della’s characters, first is that she is too devoted. Even though it might be a little difficult to define Della apart from Jim, you can tell that she lives for her husband, but it looks like her husband lives for her too; since he also sold his greatest possession for her. So it is likely that Jim is also as devoted as his wife Della. In this case, though they may play different roles, they are in a relationship of equality and equal devotion that in the end made Della’s devotion a little bit strange and kind of wonderful. Second is her hysteria. She seems unrealistically emotional. We can already see that in the first part of the story she is already collapsing and sobbing. Not only in the first part, but her actions throughout the story is just a little bit over the edge which makes the story a bit irritating and since the story was in 1906 shouldn’t she be more feminine? Jim on the other hand, is the husband of Della and is described to be serious, overworked, thin, and is the only breadwinner in the family. Obviously O. Henry did not expose his feelings much as he did on Della and the only thing that is common between them is their unconditional love for each other. You may also notice that Della is a bit over the edge, while Jim is the type of guy who just take things lightly. Lastly is Madame Sofronie. She is the owner of the hair shop and is described to be large, white, chilly and direct to the point. Her attitude is a great contrast to Jim and Della. For Della, her hair was her greatest possession and none of this matter to Madame Sofronie, because for her, it was just another business transaction which will bring her more profit. We can say that she brings another different kind of perspective which exists outside the “unconditional love” Jim and Della has. She represents the cold and uncaring world. She also represents a very different way of valuing things which is purely money.
There are two settings in the story. First is that, it took place on a Christmas Eve and secondly, it happened on Della and Jim’s home which then gives us a bit more of an understanding about their lifestyle. It is not specifically told in the story if they lived in an urban or rural kind of area, but the action of the story depends on the mere fact that it is almost Christmas. At first, you would not think that they are poor. Their poverty was just introduced after the main problem in the story arose. And it is because of their poverty which forced them both to sell their greatest possession that made those sacrifices meaningful. The way O. Henry contrasted their physical setting with their warm and unconditional love is just purely mind-blowing.
Just like any other book, The Gift of Magi has its strengths beginning from its characters down to the literary style O. Henry used. First are the characters, the positive side of Della and Jim is that they are both resourceful and the fact that they are willing to give up the things that are important to them just for each other. An act of selflessness and generosity is perfectly shown in the story. Secondly is the theme, the theme of the story is marvellous yet simple. Although a lot of people know the word love and generosity, not all know its meaning and how they are going to present or use it, but O. Henry tried to show us through the unconditional love of the married couple for each other by how far their love can take them despite their situation. Lastly are the literary devices. The story used imagery, allegory, and symbolism. William used biblical imagery wherein Della and Jim are compared to the characters on the bible. They are also compared to the three wise men which is shown at the end of the story for they gave gifts that are more important than most material things.
Meanwhile the weaknesses of the story include the characters. Della and Jim also have negative side, but these are already tackled and explained in the third paragraph. Secondly is the plot. We are used to the see the conflict in the middle of the story, but O. Henry already introduced it at the beginning of the story, but was solved immediately by a decisive action. After that, he introduced another problem at the end of the story wherein it turns out that the gifts both bought by Jim and Della are now useless. Lastly is the point of view. The story was told in a third person’s point of view. Though we understood the main idea O. Henry is trying to tell us, the story only focused on Della. We didn’t see much of what Jim feels and how he is doing and O. Henry only limits himself to Della’s point of view.
The Gift of Magi is truly a very touching story that teaches a lot of moral lessons. I think that the relevance of The Gift of Magi is greater nowadays than the time it was created. The narrative contains the theme of love and selflessness as the way to true happiness. Jim and Della taught us that no sacrifice is too great for those one’s love. It reminds us that love is more important than most possessions we have and that the thought counts more than the gift itself. It is a great story about love, thoughtfulness, and friendship for all ages and it will really move those who will read it. I recommend it to the younger ages as well as to the teenagers nowadays.