The Gift Of The Magi Theme Essay Graphic Organizer


1. Introduction

2. The Major Themes Love, Sacrifice and Wisdom

3. The ‘O. Henry twist’

4. Conclusion

5. Appendix
5.1. Biography of O. Henry
5.2. Short Summary of “The Gift of the Magi”

6. Literature
6.1. Primary Literature
6.2. Secondary Literature


William Sydney Porter changed his name often. By using only “William Sydney Porter“ or his most common penname “O. Henry” the paper is hopefully easier to understand. Different sources spell his name differently. In this paper I will continue to use the above mentioned spelling, as done in most sources.

1. Introduction

In this paper I will have a closer look at the short story “The Gift of the Magi“ by O. Henry. I will start by analyzing the major themes love, sacrifice and wisdom. Furthermore, I will also have a look at the ending of the story, which is an example of the so-called ‘O. Henry twist’. By analyzing these different aspects of the short story I will conclude with the meaning for the reader today and the question whether this short story is worth reading.

2. The Major Themes Love, Sacrifice and Wisdom

O. Henry addresses various themes in his short story “The Gift of the Magi”, which was first published in 1906 in ”The Four Million”. These themes are illustrated by the actions and statements of the two main characters Della and James Dillingham Young and are also emphasized by the narrator.

While the subject of the story is the relationship of the two characters, the most obvious theme is that love is more important than any material item. The Youngs illustrate this theme through their actions. Despite their poverty Della always welcomes James with great affection: “But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called ‘Jim’ and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young …” (Henry 1992: 1). This shows that material possessions become unimportant when compared to unselfish love. True love like this one can even happen to people who live under very poor conditions.

Della plans in much detail the present, which she would like to give to “… Jim. Her Jim.” (Henry 1992: 2). The repetition of his name and the use of a personal pronoun emphasize her love to Jim. The long process of planning[1], which William Sydney Porter only described shortly, also proves their love.

In the name of love Della even sacrifices her most valuable possession: her hair. Jim reacts equally and sells his watch. Both items[2] stand in contrast to the apartment Della and Jim live in[3], which underlines the value of the two possessions. This is also achieved by the allusion to royal treasures and the biblical motif:

“Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. 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.” (Henry 1992: 2)

This high value makes it even harder for Della to take the step to sacrifice it[4] in order to purchase the present for Jim. This is shown by the way she acts, when she waits at Mne. Sofronie’s: “‘Give it to me quick,’ said Della.” (Henry 1992: 2). She is afraid, that she might change her mind. But, because of her true love to Jim, she sacrifices her most valuable possession and sells her hair[5].

Della not only expresses her love through her actions but also puts it into words after Jim sees her the first time with short hair: “‘Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered,’ she went on with sudden serious sweetness, ‘but nobody could ever count my love for you.’” (Henry 1992: 4). Her hair is not important for her and she was happy to sacrifice it for her husband. Jim returns this statement of her feelings in his own gentle way, which is almost a declaration of love to Della: “ ‘Don’t make any mistake, Dell,’ he said, ‘about me. I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less.’” (Henry 1992: 4). This does not only underline the love he feels for Della but also the fact that he is aware that the gifts of love and sacrifice have a higher value than any material possession. He does not regret anything and has a positive outlook on their living situation although speaking in materialistic ways they might not be rich: “‘Dell,’ said he, ‘let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ‘em a while. They’re too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on.’” (Henry 1992: 5). Nevertheless he understands that they are rich because of the love they share. Although they did not really need the items they purchased, they bought it because of the true and unselfish love.

This act of giving is also important in the last paragraph of the short story, which is stated in form of an extended metaphor:

“The magi, as you know, were wise men—wonderfully wise men—who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.” (Henry 1992: 5)

The narrator relates the magi[6] to the couple. Although the Youngs only seem to be ”two foolish children” (Henry 1992: 5) who were unwise, because they sold their most valuable possessions, the narrator explains in this “… little parable with a significant meaning” (Voss 1973: 124) that they are wise because of their true love[7], their sacrifice and their unselfish behavior. Therefore one can say that:

“The theme of the story is love, and how the value of giving is measured not by how lavish a gift is in a monetary sense, but by the love that is behind it. … Jim’s and Della’s gifts to each other were priceless because each, out of love, gave up their most prized possessions to make the other happy.” ( Inc. 2008)

This idea is also summarized by the title of the short story, which shows that love is really ‘the gift of the magi’.


[1] cp. “Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling—something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.” (Henry 1992: 2)

[2] cp. “Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father's and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair.” (Henry 1992: 2)

[3] cp. „A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.” (Henry 1992: 1)

[4] cp. “Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.” (Henry 1992: 2)

[5] cp. “When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends--a mammoth task.” (Henry 1992: 3)

[6]“Magi (the Magi) noun [pl.] (in the bible) the three wise men from the East who are said to have brought presents to the baby Jesus” (Oxford University Press 2000: 772)

[7] cp. “How wonderful to love so deeply; how glorious to be loved so much.” (Musick 1998-2007)

Presentation on theme: "The Literary Analysis Essay Using The Gift of the Magi by O’Henry as an example text."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Literary Analysis Essay Using The Gift of the Magi by O’Henry as an example text

2 The Essay Prompt Today’s Assignment: ▫Write an essay in which you describe three literary elements and their purpose in The Gift of the Magi

3 Writing A Thesis Statement for a Literary Analysis Essay Read the story, taking notes as you read. Once you've read the story or novel closely, look back over your notes for patterns of questions or ideas that interest you. ▫Have most of your questions been about the characters, how they develop or change, or about setting, mood, or tone, which effect plot and theme?

4 Look at your notes: For example: If you are reading O’Henry’s The Gift of the Magi, are you most interested in how the author develops a sense of irony throughout the story? Question: What does O’Henry seem to be suggesting about the world, people in it, or life in general (you are asking yourself to identify a theme)? Answer: O’ Henry suggests that love is more important than material things. Pitfalls: Choosing too many ideas. Choosing an idea without any support.

5 Formulate Ideas for Thesis Statement Once you have some general points to focus on, write your possible ideas in question form and answer them. For example: Question: How does O’ Henry develop the idea that love is more important than material things? Answer: He uses characterization, mood, and irony to convey the meaning of love in the story.

6 Write the Thesis Statement: To write your thesis statement, all you have to do is turn the question and answer around. You've already given the answer, now just put it in a sentence so that the thesis of your paper is clear. For example: In his short story, The Gift of the Magi, O’ Henry uses characterization, mood and irony to convey that it is not necessary to buy expensive gifts in order to express feelings of love.

7 Example Thesis and Its Parts In his short story, The Gift of the Magi, O’ Henry uses characterization, mood and irony to convey that it is not necessary to buy expensive gifts in order to express feelings of love.

8 PreWriting, Thesis, Support and Organization (worksheet) Thesis Statement: In his short story, The Gift of the Magi, O’ Henry uses characterization, mood and irony to convey that it is not necessary to buy expensive gifts to express feelings of love. Key Point #1 Characterization Evidence: “...”( ).Elaboration Key Point #2 Mood Evidence:Elaboration Key Point #3 Irony Evidence:Elaboration Organization

9 Thesis Statement: In his short story, The Gift of the Magi, O’ Henry uses characterization, mood and irony to convey that it is not necessary to buy expensive gifts to express feelings of love. Key Point #1 As O’ Henry begins his story, he uses direct and indirect characterization to familiarize the reader with the main character, Della. Evidence: “...”( ).Elaboration Key Point #2 In addition, O’ Henry sets the mood as being somewhat desperate in order to increase the reader’s sympathy towards Della and her situation. Evidence:Elaboration Key Point #3 Finally, O’ Henry creates a sense of irony to further formulate his point. Evidence:Elaboration Organization

10 Each Body Paragraph Has: 1)Topic Sentence that connects and transitions to the previous paragraph. 2)Lead In sentence that leads to the evidence by stating what is happening at that point in the story. 3)Evidence (quote or detail), cited with page number and quotation marks (if needed). 4)1-2 elaboration sentences that explain the evidence, its purpose, and how it relates to the theme. 5)A concluding sentence.

11 Example Body Paragraph (TS) As O’ Henry begins his story, he uses direct and indirect characterization to familiarize the reader with the main character, Della. (LEAD IN) For example, Della is the loving, warm, and selfless, but she is also financially poor. (EVIDENCE) AThis is evident as stated in the story, “She had been saving every penny she could for months…planning for something nice for him” (5). (ELABORATION) Although Della does not have much money, she saves whatever she can because it is important for her to buy Jim a nice gift. (ELABORATION) This show the reader that she puts Jim’s happiness before her own needs. (CS) Through this use of characterization, O’ Henry enables the reader to connect to Della and appreciate the love she feels for Jim.

12 Writing the Introduction Begin with a hook. Briefly touch on the plot of the story. Create a thesis statement that identifies genre, author, title and theme of the story, as well as provide a roadmap of your essay.

13 Example of Introduction Finding the perfect gift for a loved one can be stressful yet rewarding, but it does not necessarily have to be costly. In “The Gift of the Magi” by O’ Henry, a poor young couple find out that their love for one another is more important than any gift. In this short story, O’ Henry uses characterization, mood and irony to convey that it is not necessary to buy expensive gifts to express feelings of love.

14 Writing the Conclusion Begin with a direct transition. Restate the thesis in different words, Summarize the main points you have made, Do not introduce a new topic in your conclusion. End by connecting to your hook and giving the reader something to think about.

15 Sample Conclusion (Transition) In conclusion, (Restate thesis) the use of characterization, mood, and irony clearly facilitate O’ Henry’s ideas on how love is always more important than expensive gifts. (Summarize) The use of characterization through the actions of the main character shows how much she is willing to sacrifice for love. In addition, the mood of the story helps the reader to connect to the characters. Finally, the irony of both characters selling what was most important to them only to receive a gift for use with that item really drives forth O’ Henry’s point. (Connection to hook) If two people truly love one another, they need not buy each other expensive gifts; they only need to show their love for one another through being together and being willing to sacrifice for one another.

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