Love is More Important Than Money in The Gift of the Magi, a Short Story by O. Henry

Last Updated: 07 Jan 2023
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He soon finds out that all he has is $1.87. He can barely buy a meal let alone Christmas presents for the people he loves. In "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry, Mr. and Mrs. James Dillingham Young do not have a lot of money. Della Dillingham Young counted her money three times the day before Christmas and all that she had was $1.87. Although she has saved up for months, expenses are high and she does not have enough to buy Jim anything nice and sterling. O. Henry's use of irony in “The Gift of the Magi” develops the theme that love is more important than money. One case of irony in this story is situational irony.

Doing whatever she can to get money to buy her husband a gift, Della sells her most prized possession, her hair. For Della's hair, she receives $20 in which she buys a platinum fob chain for James family watch. When James arrives home, he is stunned by the appearance of his wife. As Della opens her gift from James, the narrator says, "Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jeweled rims - just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair” (Henry). This portrays situational irony because when Della cut off her hair and sold it, the readers were not expecting for her to get a gift specifically for her hair.

James was not surprised because he thought she looked bad, he was surprised because he spent a lot of money on a gift that now she cannot use. In addition, this develops the theme that love is more important than money due to the fact that James still loved his wife and thought she was beautiful no matter how much money he wasted, which also can be shown from Della's point of view. Another case of irony in "The Gift of the Magi" similar to the previous, is also situational. Jim has a gold watch passed down from generations that he takes a lot of pride in. When Della spends her hair money on the chain for his watch, she is ecstatic that it had been made for Jim.

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She describes it as quietness and value, just like her husband. When giving the gift to James, instead of showing excitement he just smiles and says, "I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs" (Henry). This shows situational irony because Mr. and Mrs. Young both sold their possessions to get money and they both got gifts for what they sold. Not only can Della not use her combs, but Jim cannot use his chain either. This represents the theme because even though they only had one nice thing each and barely had money for living, they still decided that no matter what they would get each other a nice gift. Although there are clear cases of situational irony throughout the story, there are also some examples of dramatic irony that also advance the theme.

Lastly, the short story shows dramatic irony to further advance the theme that love overpowers money. Knowing Della cut off her hair and sold it, any gift that she got involving her hair should make her upset. When Della opens her gift from James, contrasting what would be thought, the narrator states, "But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: 'My hair grows back fast, Jim!" (Henry). This is showing dramatic irony because readers know that Della cannot use the combs bought for her, but she does not seem to care. As she opened the gift she seemed to forget that she no longer could use that gift.

Surprisingly, she put her sadness aside to appreciate the gift given to her demonstrating that, again, although money essential, love will override that in the long run. What is worse, being mad and losing who makes you happy or only having just enough money to live? To conclude, the use of irony in "The Gift of the Magi" is used quite often and introduces the theme that love is more important than money in all instances. Selling something you take pride in, getting a gift you cannot use, and having to put on an appreciating face when really you are disappointed, all show that whatever needs to be done for someone you love, is worth it. Because Della and James had so much love for each other, they were willing to leave all money problems aside to give the other something they deserved.

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Love is More Important Than Money in The Gift of the Magi, a Short Story by O. Henry. (2023, Jan 07). Retrieved from

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