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Literary Devices in The Gift of the Magi

This story develops using dramatic irony. Both Della and Jim make sacrifices in order to purchase gifts for each other. However, these sacrifices—Jim selling his watch, Della selling her hair—actually make the gifts useless to their recipient. The dramatic irony is used to teach the audience the theme of the story: love is the truest gift one can give.

Literary Devices Examples in The Gift of the Magi:

The Gift of the Magi


"meretricious ornamentation..."   (The Gift of the Magi)

Meretricious means aesthetically attractive, but containing no actual value. In this case, Della hopes that the watch will be valuable because of its sensible use, not its flashiness. This is also a piece of dramatic irony. The love between the couple is far more valuable to both of them than any material goods. Therefore the idea of purchasing a material gift in the hope that it will make Jim happy is itself “meretricious ornamentation.”

"take a look at the home..."   (The Gift of the Magi)

This line exemplifies O. Henry’s writing style. He asks the reader to “take a look at the home,” but only offers minimal description of what is inside (“the shabby little couch”), leaving the rest of the image of the apartment to be decided by the imagination of the reader.

"“Give it to me quick,” said Della..."   (The Gift of the Magi)

This line is framed by the narrative tension implemented in the first paragraph of the story. Della does not have a lot of time to go shopping for Jim, and now that she has cut her hair, she wants to leave quickly to find him the perfect present before he gets home for work.

"And the next day would be Christmas..."   (The Gift of the Magi)

This line creates a “ticking clock,” for the reader to pay attention to as the story unravels. Della has to solve her urgent problem by Christmas, which is only one day away. Notice how O. Henry constructs the first paragraph by stating the problem and the timeframe within which the problem must be solved. This construction begins the story with basic narrative tension.

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