The Gift of the Magi--an Appreciation

Dec 22


Pradeep Gusain

Pradeep Gusain

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The Gift of the Magi—an Appreciation is a critique of the immortal short story by O. Henry on the theme of Christmas and gift exchange. The short write-up brings out the essence of the story without revealing the surprise ending.


It is customary to show old and new movies,The Gift of the Magi--an Appreciation Articles play all time great music and songs, etc. around the festival and other important days.

So is done during the weeks and months leading to Christmas. TV will be full of great films on the theme of Christmas and “Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell”, will be sung umpteenth time.

Here is one of the all time great short stories on the theme of Christmas by one of the greatest short story writer of all time.

The short story is titled, “The Gift of the Magi”, and its writer is O. Henry whose real name was William Sydney Porter.

First what do we mean by Magi?

When Christ was born he is supposed to have been brought gifts of gold, myrrh, and frankincense by the Magi (incidentally, the English word ‘magic’ is derived from it) or three Wise Men or three Kings from the East.

The writer gives his own explanation at the end of the short story. This tradition of commentary by the author within the story is used less and less in modern stories. In fact, modern stories, like modern art and poetry, are becoming more and more difficult to understand and that may be one of the reasons that the genre of short stories is dying down, though not yet dead.

O. Henry writes at the end of the story, “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.

The story concerns a poor couple Della and Jim who are at their wits’ end on Christmas Eve what to give each other as they have no money. How much they had?

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

Of course, it was the time when things and services were cheap. They paid a weekly rent of $ 8 for their furnished flat and Jim earned $ 20 per week though previously he was earning $ 30 per week. Still $ 1.87 was too little to buy any Christmas gift.

Yet they were able to buy expensive and exactly the very gifts which were most needed and desired by each other:

Dell," said he, "let's put our Christmas presents away and keep 'em a while. They're too nice to use just at present.

The story ends with a “twist-in-the-tail” surprise which was a favorite ploy of the traditional writers and which is frowned upon by modern writers. However, this bitter-sweet ending makes this one of the greatest immortal short stories.

Of course, to know the surprise ending and savor this great story, I have not divulged all the details and I would recommend it a compulsory reading for all and especially for those who are young at heart. But who is not?

I would also request to ponder for a moment if the owner of an important sounding card bearing the name "Mr. James Dillingham Young" appertaining to unused letter-box and non-functioning electric button in the vestibule, had no money to spend on Christmas gift, how much hopeless the really poor might be feeling on Christmas eve! If we think about them on Christmas, God will surely bless us.