Author Mary Rival once wrote, “In order to deem a story as great, it must engage the reader on an intellectual and emotional level, use creative language purposefully, and encourages the reader to learn something about himself or his world in the process.” In other words, the reader must immerse oneself in a story and live within the text to fully grasp the story, theme and impression. The short story, “The Gift of The Magi,” by O. Henry is a dynamic text engages the reader by including creative language like imagery, and teaches the reader about the world, more specifically, the symbolic gift of love. In this short story, the two main characters, Jim and Della, sacrifice their prized possessions to purchase a present for the other, during Christmas. However, the twist ending comes into play, when they each had to sell what they loved the most to purchase a gift for the person they loved the most. Consequently, they gifts they each received were then useless. “The Gift of the Magi” is a remarkable story because it captivates the reader with knowledge and passion, utilizes innovative language decisively, and persuades the reader to uncover something about himself or his world in the progression.
- Henry attracts his audience from the very first sentence of the short story, specifically from the unique intellectual line of counting money. This engages the reader, enticing a curiosity that causes almost a mystery to be solved. However, the reader is captivated the most with
knowledge and passion, during the twist ending. It is when the Della and Jim exchange their gifts that the ultimate gift of love is given. “For there lay The Combs—the combs that Della had seen in a shop window and loved for a long time...She had looked at them without the least hope of owning them. And now they were hers, but her hair was gone,” and later to state, “You’ll have to look at your watch a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how they look together ...I sold the watch to get the money to buy the combs” (Henry 3). In the text, Jim bought Della a comb for her hair, and Della bought Jim a watch chain, however, Jim sold his watch to obtain the comb, and Della sold her hair to buy the watch chain. Their gifts for one another came to no use because they both sacrificed something of their own for the other, and what they bought for each other is meant specifically for what they ended up selling. In addition, the characters throughout the story are believable because they have human-like personalities. One example of this would be the human-like quality of love, as represented in the reading, “Be good to me, because I sold it for you. Maybe the hairs of my head could be counted, but no one could ever count my love for you. Shall we eat dinner, Jim?” (Henry 3). Though they were meaningless, they exemplify their love for each other. The reader yearns for good to win, the happy ending and “The Gift of the Magi” delivers this message is an unforgettable seducing twist.
Secondly, the author uses innovative language decisively, specifically through imagery, thus adding another reason why this short story is magnificent. The quality and beauty of Della’s hair is detailed thoroughly for the reader to fully understand the importance of it’s symbolism. Della’s hair made her a woman and it was a point of beauty for Jim. Moreover, the author of the story makes a great deal over the importance of Della’s hair for a reason, using metaphoric language to describe it’s quality and beauty. An example of this would be, “It almost made itself into a dress for her” (Henry 2). In this case, O. Henry refers to Della’s hair, as a dress, not merely for the length, but for the attractiveness. In addition, he aims to explain the beauty of Della’s hair when saying, “If a queen had lived in the rooms near theirs, Della would have washed and dried her hair where the queen could see it. Della knew her hair was more beautiful than any queen’s jewels and gifts” (Henry 1 & 2). By comparing Della’s hair to that of jewels, it gives the reader a relatable association. It also paints a vivid description of the exquisiteness of Della’s hair and foreshadows the events to come. Della would soon sell her admirable hair, the sacrifice of her love, as a gift for Jim.
Lastly, O. Henry persuades the reader to uncover something about himself or his world in the progression of “The Gift of the Magi” by developing the characters and thematic elements. The reader and characters realize that love is a gift, albeit, tangible, or intangible, and when the theme, the gift of love is demonstrated in the story, one can truly understand Della’s need to please her husband. “She had many happy hours planning something nice for him. Something nearly good enough. Something almost worth the honor of belonging to Jim” (Henry 1). The conclusion of the story revealed how both person’s gift would have no worth. However, the characters look past the gifts and money spent, and rather look at their endless love for one another. To add, Jim’s dialogue of, “ ‘I want you to understand me, Dell,’ he said. ‘Nothing like a haircut could make me love you any less. But if you’ll open that, you may know what I felt when I came in,’ ” (Henry 3). This exemplifies how Jim will love Della regardless of something silly like a horrible haircut. Specifically, in this part of the story, Jim sees that Della has little to no hair, (since she sold it for Jim’s chain for his watch,) in which he bought a comb for her that would evidently come to no use. He is not upset nor loving Della any less, however, was just disappointed because, again, his gift was pointless if she had no hair to comb. Nonetheless, both examples show how that even if gifts or surprises do not work out in the end, the idea and thought is the most important part because it came from the heart. They gifted their love for one another in the thought of the gift, regardless of the disappointing outcome that came out of the fact that exactly what they bought would impact one belonging that the other owned, yet, they sold that one belonging to afford the gift for the other. The reader determined what the characters discover in the twist of the short story, and that is, although it is easy to be defeated in effort, one must celebrate the road of life.
“The Gift of the Magi” is a significant short story because it engages the reader by touching on their emotions and reaching them on an intellectual level. In addition, O. Henry’s use of creative language, figurative language and sensory details causes the readers to immerse oneself in the story and live within the text to comprehend the story, and foundation. In the end the reader learns that love is the ultimate sacrifice and Della makes this sacrifice when the money she saves is not enough to buy Jim a worthy Christmas present. For Della, the foremost hindrance is that her lack of money negates her happiness and limits her ability to express her love to Jim without a tangible object. However, after the twist ending, it is discovered that both their gifts are now insignificant in a sense, but they would sacrifice their most prized possessions for the other. Their love prevails over possessions. They gave to each other not objects, but love. The author Mary Rival was correct in her description of the perfect short story and “The Gift of the Magi” encompasses all these great qualities.
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