“The Gift of the Magi” is a short story written in 1905 by O. Henry. This story is about a young woman by the name of Della and young man named Jim; Jim and Della are a young, married couple struggling to make ends meet. The story begins on Christmas Eve with Della counting her savings in hopes of buying her husband a Christmas gift.
However, it doesn’t take much for her to realize that what she has saved up isn’t enough to buy Jim the Christmas gift he deserves. After much consideration, she decides to cut and sell her beautiful hair, her most prized possession, so she can afford to buy Jim a Christmas present. The beauty shop gives her twenty dollars for her hair, all of which Della uses to buy her husband a beautiful chain for his most prized possession- his grandfather’s watch. When Jim returns home, he notices that Della has cut her hair. At first, Della worries that Jim no longer finds her attractive, but when he gives her the gift he got for her she understands. Jim had sold his grandfather’s watch to buy Della a set of stunning combs to wear in her luscious locks; Della had given up her hair to buy Jim a chain for his watch. To an outsider, Jim and Della may seem foolish, but their gifts of pure love and sacrifice make them the wisest of all. “The Gift of the Magi”proves that wealth is much more than just your possessions; wealth is giving at a sacrificial level and having the wisdom to recognize the importance and value of putting others before yourself.
James and Della Young place high value in things most would consider unworthy. Henry writes, “Now there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair,” (9). It is easily understandable why someone would place high value in a family heirloom such as a watch, but why would young Della care so much about her hair? It is not something that was given to her or something that she had to purchase at a great price. Rather, it is something that she takes care of and nurtures herself. Della’s hair is representative of her strength and how she maintains a pure heart despite her circumstances. Having a pure heart is more important to Della than great riches and wealth.
“Had the Queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out of the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts,” (Henry 9). She knows that even though she doesn’t have jewels or riches to boast about, she can take great pride in her strength and kindness. At face value, it is easy to understand why Jim values his watch. It is something that has been passed down from generation to generation within his family and most likely has the greatest monetary value out of anything he owns.
However, the value of the watch goes much deeper than monetary value. Jim’s watch is representative of the wisdom passed down from his grandfather to his father and then from his father to him. Jim is a hardworking man that understands the importance of earning an honest living and taking care of your family, values that are passed down from a father figure. He knows that staying true to his beliefs makes him wise, and he takes great pride in that. According to Henry, “Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy,” (9).
Jim knows that working hard and taking care of his own is worth more than any amount of silver or gold. Altogether, “The Gift of the Magi” is an allusion to Biblical stories of Jesus. This idea is seen in the story from the very beginning. Just like Jesus, Della and Jim are able to find value in things that most wouldn’t consider valuable. According to the Bible, Jesus is able to love even the vilest of sinners, regardless of the world’s opinion of them. Della’s willingness to cut and sell her hair in order to buy a gift for the one she loves the most alludes to the Biblical story of Mary washing the feet of Jesus with her hair. Since the beginning of time, a woman’s hair has been a symbol of her strength and status, and both Della and Mary were willing to give up their hair for someone they esteemed higher than themselves. Jim’s watch and Henry’s reference to King Solomon also allude to the Bible. In the Bible, King Solomon was granted great wisdom and wealth from God, but he didn’t always utilize it.
Despite being told explicitly by God not to marry the daughters of foreign kings, Solomon married the daughter of the Pharaoh, which led to many issues in Solomon’s personal life as well as in his kingdom. Jim understands that taking care of and loving his wife make him even wiser than King Solomon. Ultimately, Jim and Della give up their most prized possessions to benefit the one that they love the most. Just like Jesus sacrificed his life because of the love he had for the world, Jim and Della were willing to sacrifice their most prized possessions because of the great love they had for each other.
“The Gift of the Magi” is a great illustration of what it means to be truly wealthy; it isn’t until you are willinging to give up everything for someone else that you will understand what it means to be wealthy. “The Gift of the Magi” also teaches that true love isn’t just a feeling, but rather a choice to put someone else above yourself no matter what it costs. Jim and Della could barely afford their rent, but they were wealthy beyond measure because they chose to love each other unconditionally. What would you be willing to sacrifice for the ones you love?
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