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Themes in The Gift of the Magi

Love: Love is the central theme in The Gift of Magi. Living in abject poverty, Jim and Della sell their most prized possessions in order to afford Christmas gifts for one another. Their actions demonstrate their willingness to sacrifice material goods for their love. Jim sells his beloved watch to buy Della combs for her hair; Della sells her hair to buy Jim a chain for his watch. While both sacrifices render the gifts they buy pointless, the narrative shows how it is the sentiment, rather than the gift itself, that truly matters.

Themes Examples in The Gift of the Magi:

The Gift of the Magi

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"A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer..."   (The Gift of the Magi)

O. Henry interjects here to build on his theme. He says that a “mathematician or a wit” wouldn’t consider that having love, but only getting paid eight dollars a week, is far more valuable than if one didn’t have love, but made a million dollars a year.

"let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest..."   (The Gift of the Magi)

The theme of the story is that unconditional love knows no boundaries. The gifts that Jim and Della give to one another end up having no useful function, but they are the most valuable gifts for either of them to have given because the gifts symbolize the sacrifices they are willing to make for their love for one another.

"ONE DOLLAR AND eighty-seven cents..."   (The Gift of the Magi)

O. Henry begins this story with an objective, expository statement to show the protagonist’s monetary problems and to set a storytelling tone. Throughout the story look for instances where the third-person narrator doesn’t advance the narrative with a conversational sentence; rather, he uses these instances to enhance the feeling that the reader is being told a sort of Christmas story.

"I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs..."   (The Gift of the Magi)

Here is O. Henry's surprise ending. Della and Jim each gave up their own personal, most valuable possession to make the other person happy on Christmas. This is where the theme of the story becomes abundantly clear: the unconditional love of this couple holds more value than any gift ever could.

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