The Gift of the Magi
The analysis of two literary works Essay
In this paper I would like to analyze the novel The House on Mango Street, written by Sandra Cisneros and the short story The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. In particular, it is necessary to discuss the themes, explored by two authors.
It seems that these literary works show how love of one’s family can help a person overcome many of his/her difficulties, like poverty or inability to raise one’s social status. The importance of family is one of the main issues, present in each of these works.
The characters of O. Henry’s story live beyond poverty line: James and Della have “one dollar and eighty-seven cents” at their possession, and they have to save money on everything in effort to make ends meet (O. Henry, unpaged). The same thing can be said about Esperanza and her family, who have to sleep in a single room. However, one should not assume that such poor living conditions force them into despair or egoism.
In The Gift of the Magi both James and Della are ready to make sacrifices for one another. As a matter of fact, they lose something that is most precious to them: Della decides to cut her beautiful hair, while James decides to sell his watch.
One cannot say that Esperanza is similarly devoted to her family but she also feels that even if she becomes successful, she would return to the family that she left behind (Cisneros, 111).
When speaking about the family life of the characters, one should mention that both authors give a very detailed description of the places in which they live in. For instance, O. Henry accurately depicts the furnishing of the department, rented by Della and James. From this description, one could easily understand that this family is not very wealthy, to say the least. Nonetheless, Della never blames Jack for it.
On the contrary she does her best to make her husband happy even despite the fact that she has to humiliate herself by wrangle over ever purchase with grocer or butcher (O. Henry, unpaged). Similarly, in the The House on Mango Street women also do not criticize their husbands, even though their families have to huddle together in a single room (Cisneros, 3).
For example, Esperanza’s mother gave up virtually all her ambitions in order to raise children: she turned to a traditional housewife. The thing is that neither Della nor Esperanza’s see themselves as victims of their husbands.
Finally, we need to say that love of one’s family gives characters hope for a better future, maybe not for them, but at least for their children. Esperanza’s mother cherishes the belief that her daughter will grow into an educated and independent person.
In her turn, Della hopes that in the future they will be able to get out of poverty. This examples show that love of one’s family really helps a person find better qualities within oneself. Probably, this is the main idea which the authors tried to convey to the reader.
Despite their overt differences in style, narrative mode, and structure, The House on Mango Street and The Gift of the Magi has a certain common feature, namely, the idea that the family unity is one of those things that can always support people especially at the time of need.
Cisneros. Sandra. The house on Mango Street. New York: Vintage Books, 1984. Print.
O. Henry. The Gift of the Magi. Available at: http://webhome.auburn.edu/~vestmon/Gift_of_the_Magi.html
The Gift of the Magi Essay
One of the reasons why short story The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry continues to enjoy an undermined popularity with contemporary readers is that, despite its apparent shortness, it presents a high literary and philosophical value. In its turn, this can be explained by the fact that, while exposed to this story, readers become enlightened of what accounts for the actual qualities of a truly loving relationship between both spouses and what can be considered the discursive significance of the act of gift-giving.
The short story in questions also contains insights, as to what can be thought of as the observable indications of one’s endowment with the sense of nobleness. In this paper, I will aim to explore the validity of the above-statement at length.
The plot of The Gift of the Magi is rather straightforward. While experiencing the acute shortage of money, Della Dillingham decides to cut off and sell her luscious hair, so that she would be able to buy her husband a respectable Christmas gift – a platinum chain for his pocket-watch. However, by the time Jim returns back home and is being presented with his gift, Della realizes that he had sold his pocket-watch, in order to be able to buy his wife the set of jeweled combs for her hair.
Given the fact that, as it was implied earlier, ever since it was first published in 1906, The Gift of the Magi never ceased appealing to readers, we can well assume that the themes and motifs, contained in the story, are thoroughly consistent with people’s unconscious anxieties, in regards to the notion of love.
Apparently, O. Henry knew perfectly well that the strength of the romantic involvement between husbands and wives (men and women) is being reflective of their willingness to sacrifice for each other, while deriving a strong emotional satisfaction out of the process.
Therefore, even though that, as a narrator, O. Henry does refer to the way in which Della and Jim went about exchanging gifts as ‘foolish’, he nevertheless cannot help considering it utterly wise, at the same time: “Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they (Della and Jim) are wisest.
Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi” (1906, 9). The reason for this is quite apparent – in order for a particular gift to be appreciated by the person that receives it, he or she must be perceiving it as such that proves the gift-giver’s unquestionable loyalty. In this respect, the gift’s utilitarian value comes second in importance.
Therefore, Della’s choice for a gift is explainable. By presenting her husband with a platinum watch-chain, she unconsciously strived to assure him of the fact that being a remarkable individual; he well deserved to be sacrificed for – the considerations of practicality did not bother Della, whatsoever.
In the similar manner Mary Magdalene treated Jesus – even though that the oil, with which she washed Jesus’s feet was ridiculously expensive, she did not hesitate even for a second buying it. It appears that Della used to perceive her husband in terms of a godlike figure, whose existential significance did not have anything to do with his de facto social status.
The message that is being conveyed through the story lines, in regards to the acts of gift-giving, on the part of both characters, can be interpreted as follows: the condition of poverty, which loving husband and wife get to experience, as they go through life, has no effect on the actual quality of their relationship. In fact, it is something that allows this relationship to thrive – whatever illogical it may sound.
That is, of course, for as long as the individuals in question are thoroughly noble, in the discursive sense of this word. The way the characters of Della and Jim are being represented in The Gift of the Magi leaves no doubts that, despite their poverty, both spouses were capable of not allowing their worrisome financial situation to affect their sense of self-identity.
Hence, the philosophical significance of how the author describes the appearance of the room, in which the couple resided: “It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad” (3). Apparently, he wanted to promote the idea that, even while experiencing hardships, existentially noble people never allow the resulting sensation of frustration, on their part, to begin defining who they actually are.
We can well speculate that the earlier mentioned description serves as the proof that Della and Jim used to be endowed with the so-called ‘Faustian’ mentality, concerned with people’s ability to overcome their animalistic instincts, while striving to realize what accounts for their true calling in life.
herefore, there is nothing incidental about the fact that in his story O. Henry made a deliberate point in accentuating Della’s artistic aspirations, “Della, being slender, had mastered the art” (4). By having done this, he succeeded in ensuring that readers would never doubt the psychological plausibility of Della’s sacrificial gesture.
The rationale behind this suggestion is simple – one’s affiliation with art naturally causes the concerned individual to seek what can be considered the surrounding reality’s hidden (metaphysical) aspects. As a result, the manner in which he or she addresses life-challenges and relates to others ends up being increasingly perceived by conventionally minded people as somewhat ‘odd’.
Yet, even though that these people may well think of Della’s gift as a rather impractical one, deep on an unconscious level, they nevertheless realize that, while choosing her husband a gift, she could not act in any other way than she did. Being an essentially ‘Faustian’ individual, Della was naturally presupposed to think of her husband in terms of what he should have been, rather than in terms of what he was in the reality.
Nevertheless, even though that, formally speaking, O. Henry does not seem to wholeheartedly approve the sacrificial acts of gift-giving, on the part of Della and Jim (hence, his reference to them as ‘foolish children’), he nevertheless does admire both characters. Partially, this can be explained by the particulars of the author’s biography, as a man with extensive life-experiences.
That is, the fact that throughout the course of his life, O. Henry never ceased taking an active stance on the matters of a socio-political importance, while suffering a number of setbacks, such as having been in jailed for the duration of 5 years, naturally endowed him with the sense of perceptual wisdom.
Hence, the discursive significance of how he reflects on the integral components of one’s life: “Life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating” (p. 3). The above-quotation suggests that, having been an analytically minded person, O. Henry was capable of deconstructing even the most complex phenomena, such as the phenomena of people’s existence, down to their basic elements.
Given the fact that, being a wise man often causes the concerned individual to look ‘deeper’ in the discussed subject matters, as compared to what it is being the case with ordinary people, there is nothing too surprising about the author’s tendency to approve the earlier mentioned ‘foolishness’, on the part of Della and Jim.
Apparently, he knew that people’s endowment with ‘Faustian’ mentality does not only enable them to ensure the continual vitality of their marital relationships, but that it also makes them the agents of the ongoing social and cultural progress.
After all, it was due to Della and Jim’s belief that there are ‘higher’ things in life, worthy to be sacrificed for, that the plot’s unraveling is being perceived by the majority of readers as emotionally intense and intellectually stimulating. In its turn, this implies that Della and Jim were more than capable of operating with utterly abstract categories, while having the voice of the ‘monkey from within’ suppressed.
After all, as the story’s context suggests, the sensation of hunger was certainly well known for both characters. Yet, instead of finding a more practical use for the money that she received from selling her hair, Della end up buying a watch-chain. Yet, as we are well aware of, it is specifically people’s ability to transcend beyond the physiological aspects of their existence, which makes it possible for them to act as the society’s productive members.
Therefore, there can be only a few doubts that, while exposing readers to the characters of Della and Jim, O. Henry strived for nothing less than promoting the idea that, contrary what it is being commonly assumed, it is only those individuals that radiate ‘nobleness’ around them, who deserve attaining a social prominence in life.
Unfortunately, this is rarely being the case. Hence, the strongly defined tragic overtones to the story of Della and Jim – apparently, the author wanted to emphasize the sheer unfairness of the situation when, due to poverty, existentially noble individuals are being denied the chance to make their lives count, in the social sense of this word.
The very same overtones, however, cause The Gift of the Magi to emanate the spirit of humanism. This simply could not be otherwise, because the story’s themes and motifs do prompt readers to think that the pathway towards ensuring the fairness of the society’s functioning is being concerned with establishing social preconditions for people, capable of acting as the agents of progress and justice, to be able to advance in life.
The story also specifies what can be considered the indications of people’s ‘qualification’, in this respect – their endowment with the ‘Faustian’ sense of idealism, which naturally causes them to adopt the altruistic mode of existence.
I believe that the earlier provided line of argumentation, as to what can be considered the discursive significance of the themes and motifs, contained in The Gift of the Magi, is fully consistent with the paper’s initial thesis. In light of what has been argued, there indeed appears to be a good rationale in referring to this particular story by O. Henry, as such that will continue representing an uncompromised literary value well into the future.
Henry, O. 1906, The Gift of Magi. PDF file. 3 Oct. 2013. <http://www.ibiblio.org/ebooks/Henry/Gift_Magi.pdf>
The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry Essay
O. Henry, an American writer, is famous for his short stories with an unpredictable ending. The Gift of the Magi is one of his masterpieces, which has become a traditional Christmas tale. In this story, the author shows a genuine love between young spouses, which is more precious than any material possessions. In this essay, the plot will be summarized, the main themes and characters will be discussed, and personal opinion will be given.
The story takes place just before Christmas, and Della Young is concerned about what she should give her husband, Jim, as a present. She counts her savings and finds only $1.87, which is not enough to buy a worthy gift. She is frustrated since she wants to present her husband with something he deserves for his hard work. Della tries to find a way out of the situation and finally comes up with an idea. The most precious thing she has is her long shining brown hair. After she looks at it in the mirror, she dresses up and goes to Madame Sofronie, a hairdresser. The woman cuts Della’s hair quickly and gives her $20.
Having enough money, Della visits several shops to find a present for Jim. She is not satisfied with anything she finds until she knows exactly what she needs. Della remembers that her husband’s most valuable thing is his gold watch, but he has to wear it with a leather strap since the original one has been broken. The woman finds a platinum chain that will perfectly suit the watch, pays $21 for it, and goes home.
When Jim arrives and sees his wife without her gorgeous hair, he becomes surprised and puzzled. Della cannot understand his reaction until she unpacks his present for her. She discovers a set of combs that she has desired for a long time, but since she does not have her long hair anymore, they appear to be useless. To comfort her husband, she hands him the platinum chain, only to find out that Jim has sold his gold watch to buy a present for her. Jim suggests they should put away their Christmas gifts and have dinner. The story ends with the statement that Della and Jim are the wisest of those who give presents.
Della is one of the two main characters of the story. She is young and beautiful, and she is distinguished by complete devotion to her husband. Della appreciates him so much that she does not agree to present him with some trifle because he deserves something precious. For this reason, she dares sell her hair, which is the only treasure she possesses. She explains to Jim that she “couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present” (O. Henry 5). Apart from being deeply in love with her husband, Della is a highly emotional person. She does not hold back her tears when she is desperate and does not restrain her laugh when she is happy. Moreover, her mood can change in an instant, which happens when she grieves over her haircut, and the next moment she is anxious to give Jim his Christmas gift. Perhaps, the abundance of emotions contributed to Della’s deep affection to her husband.
Since Jim appears on the scene only at the end of the story, readers do not know his thoughts, but they see his actions. Like Della, Jim sacrificed the most precious thing he had, his gold watch, to buy a present for his wife. Thus, it may be assumed that he is as much deeply in love with Della as she is with him. After all, the story is intended to show true affection, which is why the author made his characters so pure and loving.
The major theme of the story is pure love, which is the most valuable thing in the world. It is unconditional since Della and Jim do not need anything special from each other; they are just happy to be together. When Della counts her scarce savings, she does not even think to blame her husband for earning little money. On the contrary, she is happy to be his wife and wants to give him the best present she can afford (Study Guide 5). Due to the couple’s sacrifices, the author compares them to the magi who brought presents to baby Jesus (Zhang and Wang 657). However, he says that Jim and Della are wiser because they gave each other the most precious gift in the world, which is pure love (Zhang and Wang 657). Thus, the story conveys the idea of a relationship, which should be pursued by everyone.
The Gift of the Magi also tackles the theme of wealth and poverty. According to Nagel, the story “resonates throughout American marriages, many of which went through periods of economic struggle at some point” (102). Indeed, the Young family is very poor, and Della has to haggle with vendors over every single penny (Tong 207). Even though they hardly make ends meet, Della and Jim are happy because they possess a much greater treasure than money – their love. As Zhang and Wang rightly stated, “there is no pure love in the world of money while there is no money in the world of love” (657). The story, therefore, conveys the idea that material possessions do not play a significant role in human life because deep affection is the only thing that matters.
Although the story is written to show readers pure love and encourage them to pursue this feeling in their lives, it seems slightly unreasonable when regarded from a realistic rather than a romantic point of view. The exchange of useless gifts would not have happened if the spouses had discussed their desires and plans with each other. Perhaps, they could have agreed upon a festive dinner or something pleasant for both, which would have saved their money and their personal treasures. After all, communication is a crucial part of a strong relationship. Therefore, instead of sacrificing something precious to surprise one’s partner, one had better inform him or her of one’s plans to avoid possible unpleasant consequences.
In conclusion, The Gift of the Magi is a kind and inspiring story about two young people truly loving each other. Their love is revealed by their willingness to sacrifice the most valuable things they own to bring joy to each other. Apart from the theme of affection, the story is concerned about the concepts of poverty and wealth. It asserts that rich people are not those with much money, but those who love and are loved in return.
Nagel, James. The American Short Story Handbook. John Wiley & Sons, 2015.
O. Henry. The Gift of the Magi. Strelbytskyy Multimedia Publishing, 2018.
Study Guide for O. Henry’s ‘The Gift of the Magi.’ Gale, Cengage Learning, 2015.
Tong, Lu. “A Brief Analysis on the Typical Writing Styles of O. Henry.” Advances in Economics, Business and Management Research, vol. 30, 2016, pp. 205-208.
Zhang, Yue, and Lijun Wang. “On Different Types of Love Stories Written by O. Henry.” Journal of Language Teaching and Research, vol. 6, no. 3, 2015, pp. 656-661.
Comparative Literature: Kate Chopin’s “The Storm” and O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” Essay
Love and desire are themes that are discussed by many writers because of the variety of these feelings’ sides and aspects that can be expressed by the literary characters. The dominant vision of the meaning of love in life presented in the story is usually associated with the speaker’s specific point of view.
In spite of the fact that Kate Chopin’s “The Storm” and O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” are similar because these short stories discuss the theme of love and desire, the speakers’ points of view presented in the stories are absolutely different. The reader receives the opportunity to focus on different representations of love and passion as characters’ strong feelings.
Thus, Chopin’s point of view can be described as realistic and even cynical because the adultery leads to happiness in her story; in contrast, O. Henry’s point of view and tone can be discussed as romantic and hopeful because it is an altruistic desire to give and share that leads to happiness in the described family.
Although Chopin uses the metaphor of storm in order to describe the adultery and the female character’s desire and passion, the speaker’s presentation of the love affair is extremely realistic and focused on details. Calixta and Alcee are the former lovers who lack the real passion in their marriages, and they choose to express their desire that is destructive like the storm. Thus, the speaker describes the adultery at the background of the storm quite realistically.
However, the tone and point of view become cynical when the speaker describes the intentions of Calixta’s husband to buy something to please the wife (Chopin 97). In contrast, Calixta seems to forget about her role of the wife and mother, and she becomes concentrated on her passion and desire.
The author ends the story saying, “So the storm passed and everyone was happy” (Chopin 99). It seems that both Calixta and Alcee do not feel any guilt because of their adultery. Furthermore, the characters’ calmness and Chopin’s references to the Virgin Mary and Assumption make the reader doubt regarding the realness of the characters’ love (Chopin 98). The speaker accentuates the cynical reality of life while demonstrating the ambiguity of the characters’ feelings.
On the contrary, Della and Jim, the main characters of O. Henry’s short story are the embodiments of the real lovers who are devoted to each other. In spite of the fact that the speaker’s tone is rather ironical, the point of view can be discussed as romantic and hopeful. Della and Jim are ready to present their treasures to each other because of the great feeling of love and because giving is happiness for these young people.
Thus, O. Henry describes Della’s desire to find the best gift for Jim stating, “Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him” (Henry 165). Even understanding that their gifts are useless, Della and Jim realise the real strength of their love. Thus, the writer intended to demonstrate the romantic love of the young couple while accentuating the value of their feelings and their hope for the future.
From this perspective, it is possible to state that the speaker’s point of view in “The Storm” is more realistic and cynical because Calixta and Alcee’s passion and desire lead to happiness instead of guilt, in contrast to the romantic discussion of love. On the contrary, Della and Jim’s useless actions lead to the fulfilment and happiness because they tenderly love each other. Thus, O. Henry’s vision of love is rather hopeful and romantic in this story.
Achebe, Chinua. “Dead Men’s Path”. Backpack Literature. Ed. X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. Boston: Pearson, 2012. 269-272. Print.
Chopin, Kate. “The Storm”. Backpack Literature. Ed. X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. Boston: Pearson, 2012. 95-100. Print.
Henry, O. “The Gift of the Magi”. Backpack Literature. Ed. X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. Boston: Pearson, 2012. 164-168. Print.
Updike, John. “A&P”. Backpack Literature. Ed. X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. Boston: Pearson, 2012. 18-23. Print.
“In the American Society” and “The Gift of the Magi” Essay
The act of giving is described as the presentation of a gift to the intended individual with the purpose of pleasing or offering assistance to the recipient (Myss 7). This act is clearly depicted in two books, namely, In the American society by Gish Jen and The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry.
This paper will analyze the theme of giving present in both pieces, as well as provide an evaluation of the theme’s existence in the two literature pieces.
In the American society
The book chronicles the challenges and tribulations faced by a Chinese-American family. The Chang family migrates to America from Taiwan, China, in pursuit of the American dream. However, all is not rosy as they realize that the American dream is an illusion, especially for Mr. Chang, who refers to it as an immigrant’s dream (Gish 44). The family struggles to fit in the American society and finds the task more difficult than they had previously imagined.
The book represents the social exclusion and culture shock that confronts most immigrants upon their arrival in America (Castillo 24).
The Gift of the Magi
The short story revolves around Jim and his wife Della, a poor couple that loves each other dearly. The couple only has two valuable possessions, Jim’s pocket watch that was given to him as a gift by his grandfather and Della’s long brown hair (Priddy 12). The author compares the value of these two possessions with King Solomon’s and Queen Sheba’s gifts. In this case, Jim and Della hold great importance to their possessions in a similar manner as the expensive gifts owned by King Solomon and Queen Sheba (Priddy 17).
The couple goes to great lengths to buy the perfect gift for each other for Christmas, only to realize the external value of their gifts is no longer of any use to either one of them.
Theme of giving
The act of giving as illustrated in In the American society adopts a give and take approach. In this case, any gift offered to the intended beneficiary is expected to be repaid in another form. This situation is represented by Mr. Chang’s character. He occasionally offers money to his employees and in return, he expects them to undertake odd jobs at the pancake house (Gish 29).
This situation also presents itself in Mrs. Chang. She tries to fit in the American social circle together with her daughters and as such, manages to obtain an invitation from Mrs. Lardner. In effect, she buys her husband a coat that he agrees to wear for her sake.
The twisted intent of giving in the book also reveals itself in Mrs. Lardner. Her real intention of gifting the Chang family with an invitation to her party is exposed when she requests Callie Chang to assist in serving at the party.
The book also depicts the consequences of not requesting something in return. Mr. Chang offers to help his employees, Booker and Cedric, obtain their permanent resident permits. However, they turn down his help. In addition, he gets into trouble with the Immigration Department when a disgruntled former employee reports Mr. Chang and accuses him of hiring illegal immigrants. However, he is set free, at the expense of Booker and Cedric. Mr. Chang however, posts their bail without expecting anything in return (Gish 77).
On the other hand, the theme of giving in The Gift of the Magi adopts a different approach. Jim and Della selflessly gift each other precious and expensive presents for Christmas. They each sacrifice their happiness and joy for the sake of their partner. The recipients also appreciate the gesture shown by the giver.
Della decides to cut her extremely long and beautiful hair to sell it to the hair salon where she gets it for $20. With the money in hand, she manages to buy Jim a platinum chain for his pocket watch (Priddy 25). However, she is apprehensive about Jim’s reaction to her cutting her hair. Although Jim is initially shocked by his wife’s new look, he appreciates the lengths his wife went to buy him the perfect gift.
Jim, on the other hand, decides to sell his pocket watch so as to buy the expensive hair combs his wife had long admired. Upon the realization that each partner’s gift was useless, it is revealed that the diminished external value does not have any effect on the intent that forms the basis of the gift.
The author at the end of the story compares Jim and Della to the magi or the three wise men that visited Baby Jesus and offered Him the gifts of Frankincense, myrrh and gold (Morgan-Cole 22). He indicates that Jim and Della are wiser than compared to the magi. Their love and sacrifice evidenced by the sale of their most prized possessions is greater than the external and material value of any gift.
According to Wright (12), the true value of a gift lies not on its material value, but on the sacrifice and intent of the giver. Therefore, the differences in the intent of the gift clearly come out in both In the American society and The Gift of the Magi.
Castillo, Susan. American literature in context to 1865. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell Publishers, 2011. Print.
Gish, Jen. In the American society. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishers, 2006. Print.
Morgan-Cole, Trudy. That first Christmas: The wise men. Hagerstown: Autumn House Publishers, 2010. Print.
Myss, Caroline. Invisible acts of power: The divine energy of a giving heart. New York: Simon & Schuster Publishers, 2013. Print.
Priddy, Joel. The gift of the magi and other short stories. New York: Dover Publications, 2010. Print.
Wright, Lauren. Giving, the sacred art: Creating a lifestyle of generosity. Woodstock: SkyLight Paths Publishers, 2008. Print.