The Gift of the Magi Summary

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

The short story "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry likely takes place just before Christmas in the early 1900's. Most of the action is in the cheap apartment of Della and her husband Jim. Della had only a dollar and eighty-seven cents saved to buy Jim a Christmas present, which just wasn't enough. She decided to sell her long, beautiful hair for twenty dollars. She took her newfound wealth and bought Jim a fabulous platinum fob chain for the pocket watch that had been in his family for generations. She worried briefly what Jim would think of her short, close-cropped curls, but it was too late.

Jim came home from work and gave her a strange look. Della assumed he didn't approve of her haircut, but she assured him it was for a good reason. Jim told her that he didn't care what her hair looked like, then he handed her the present that he bought for her to explain himself. He had purchased tortoise shell combs with jeweled rims for her long tresses, which she no longer had. She replied that her hair would grow back quickly, so he didn't need to worry. Then she wanted him to open his present. He unwrapped the watch chain, and she asked if she could attach it to his watch. He replied that he sold the watch to buy her the hair combs. These gifts tie into the story of the wise men, or Magi, who brought gifts to the newborn baby Jesus, which perhaps began the tradition of giving gifts at Christmas. They too thought that their gifts were wise ones. Whether the gifts were of use or not, the point is that these people sacrificed to give something to someone else, which means that they carry great value whether the receiver can actually use them or not.

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