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Critical Approaches

The Gift of the Magi

Danielle Henriques

on 15 July 2013

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Transcript of Critical Approaches

The Gift of the Magi
By O. Henry

The Gift of the Magi is a short story based on love and sacrifice. The author is able to portray these themes using various approaches to fiction including formalistic, exponential, and moral and philosophical.
In the story "The Gift of the Magi" a young couple are each individually challenged by their poor financial state in the upcoming celebration of Christmas Eve. By overcoming their problem of purchasing a gift for another, they each sacrifice their most prized possession in order to have enough money and express their love for the other.
Themes focuses on the love and sacrifice shared between Della and Jim

Both felt they had to express their affections by giving up their most prized possessions in order to truly prove their love for one another.
With the sacrifice of their own individual wealth, they exchanged it into another as a gift for their loved one.
Works Cited
Waters, Ilana. "What Are the Symbols in the Gift of the Magi?
Read more: http://www.ehow.cominfo_8189216_symbols-gift-magi.html
The Gift of the Magi is a short story laced with the themes of love, commitment, and sacrifice. They are portrayed through the symbols used, imagery, and moral/philosophical lessons which are taught.
Biblical Symbolism
Reference is made to the Three Wisemen, the Queen of Sheba and the King of Solomon
They are all royal and rich biblical figures
"Had the Queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out of the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty's jewels and gifts" (Henry).
"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).
The comparison of Jim and Della's possessions to those of Biblical figures symbolizes how precious those two items are to their owners

The Watch
The watch in the story can represent time, the future (which the couple hopes to spend together) the end of the year, or eternity. It may represent the couple's transition from starry-eyed youths to mature and generous individuals

The young wife's hair in the story can symbolize many things:
youth (young women generally wear their hair longer)
In a way, by giving up her hair, the woman in the story is agreeing to give her youth, sexuality, and "best years of her life" to her husband

The combs are a symbol of Jim's love for Della
he gave up his most precious possession so that his wife would be happy and beautifully adorned.
Like the combs, the watch chain is a symbol of the wife's love for her husband
She has just as much emotional attachment to her hair as he did to his watch
Yet she gave it up willingly to purchase the one thing she thought would bring her husband happiness
The chain may also symbolize their marriage, an institution that provides a "link" between two people

-The day before Christmas
-In a poor, drab, unexciting town
-Set in the 20th century
- “the honor of being owned by him.”
-“a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails”

-Throughout the story we learn different traits about Della
-Caring and selfless
“she had spent planning something nice for him”
“ ‘Will you buy my hair?’ asked Della”
“she knew that it must be Jim’s. It was like him.”
“something just a little bit near to being worthy of being owned by him.”
-Low Self-Esteem
“Please God, make him think that I am still pretty.”
“She had a habit of saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things”

-Selfless and loving
“I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs.”
“Jim looked about the room curiously.”
“‘I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on.’”

Beginning -Della is a poor, young woman who doesn’t have enough money to buy her husband a gift for Christmas.

Conflict- Della decides to sell her hair in order to have more money for the gift.

Complication-Jim comes home and is shocked by the fact that Della cut her hair.

Climax- Jim gives Della her present which are the combs, and we are left wondering how he had the money to pay for them.

-Both love each other so much that they are willing to give up their most prized possessions
-The happiness they each bring each other helps to offset the dull world outside their house
-Even though they are poor they can get by because of each other

-Della and Jim both part with all they have in order to make the other happy
-They sacrificed all they had in the name of love

-Both characters in the story are very poor
-However the sacrifices they make show that they are rich in love
-Their love teaches them to give up items of monetary value for the other.

Prove it...

Della says after giving the chain to Jim, " ' I hunted all over town to find it... Give me your watch I want to see how it looks on it.' [in Jim's response,] Instead of obeying, [he] tumbled down on the couch"(O.Henry).

Jim said to Della after she presented her gift to him, "' I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs'"( O. Henry).
What is the Message?
As a result to both character's selfless actions through sacrifice of each of their most valuable treasure to express their loyal love, one can interpret philosophically that:

these can be considered actions of the superego, referring to the psyche of Sigmund Freud's theory.

Applying the morality of love in the story to our society today, when it comes to the people that are closest to one's self, to express their affection to another through love, an individual can be willing to sacrifice their most treasured possession.

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