The Gift of Magi Theme Analysis. - Essay Prowess

The Gift of Magi Theme Analysis.


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The Gift of Magi theme analysis.


In the short story by O. Henry, The Gift of Magi, we have a number of themes that the author brings to the fore in telling the story. To start with, there is the theme of poverty in that the characters in the story are living in a state of poverty with the husband employed and earning a salary only enough to keep them going. There is the theme of love in that despite their poverty, they seem to be very happily in love. For example, Della proclaims, “but nobody could ever count my love for you,” (para. 5). There is the theme of sacrifice in that each of them sacrificed their prized possessions to please their partners.


The overriding theme in the short story by O. Henry entitled The gift of the Magi is the theme of poverty. The couple’s name is Jim and Della who are working for a payment of $20 per week, paying rent of $8 weekly and spending the rest of the money to cater for their daily expenses and thus being left with nothing to save. The couple is living a life of poverty, but their economic status evidenced by the type of house they live and the fact that they have each had one item, which they considered as their priced-possession. The husband Jim had a pocket golden watch, which he had inherited from his father while his wife had only her flowing hair as her most valuable thing. The story is set at a time just before Christmas and traditionally, Christmas is a time when people give and receive gifts. However, for this couple, they had not saved any money that could buy a gift for their partners. Consequently, the wife had to cut and sell her hair to buy her husband a gift while the husband had to sell his precious and much-valued pocket gold watch to get a gift for his wife.

The theme of poverty

In the opening paragraph, the author starts by telling us that “One dollar and eighty-seven cents” (par. 1), was all the money Della had saved little by toiling to the last drop of sweat. The money had been saved little by little until Della had to take her time and count the money once and again. Perhaps the reason why she had to count the money more than one time is that she did not believe that was all the money she had. This was the money that she was supposed to use to buy a Christmas gift for her husband. The fact that the money was in pennies highlight that the situation was not changing for the family and had taken a long time to save that amount of money. The family was so much stricken by poverty in that, normally, people save during the year some money for gifts during Christmas time but the family was unable to save something substantive to spend during the festive season (Moon, Eland, and Lindmark). The One dollar and eighty-seven cents could not buy food for Christmas leave alone the present that the wife was so eager to buy for her husband.

The poverty in the family elicits a sense of hopelessness in that Della was in so much thought and there was “nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl” (par. 2). Poverty was part of their family life with sobs setting now and then. The positive thing was the love they had for each other. The material poverty of the couple is contrasted with the wealth of the love they had for each other. Frustrations brought about by poverty is demonstrated in that Della was she had initially tried to look for a present with $1.87, which she did find a gif worthy of her husband. It was only after she sold her only priced-possession that she was able to afford a gift worth $21.

The mood of unhappiness brought by poverty is also well captured in the story. In the line, “Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at the gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard”, the author captures vividly mood of unhappiness by using the word ‘gray’ three times. Being a time just before Christmas, you would expect Della to be happy but this is not the case. She is very aware that she needs to buy a gift for her husband but she does not have enough money to buy the gift. Della is described as wearing a brown jacket and an old brown hut. The two colors, brown and gray, do not only highlight the mood but also the unhappiness brought about by poverty as the two colors can be described as dull devoid of any brightness. (Mcmanus).

The couple lives in a modest house where they pay a weekly rent of $8. The author describes the house that it did not exactly fit the description of a beggar’s house, “but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad” (para. 6). The couple used to survive on Jim’s weekly pay of $30, which had been reduced to $20, which Jim was currently getting. Even the pier-glass that was between the windows of the room is used to show that house poverty was part of the family. The author describes it as, “Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 flat”. (para. 5). This highlight more that although the house did not show signs of occupants being in extreme poverty, it was easy to see that the couple was not doing well financially. The author describes the apartment and makes it look beat-up and cheap (Gift of the magi). The couple seems to be comfortable in their state of poverty in that the author states that they took much pride in their two possessions, despite the watch being part of the inheritance from Jim’s father.

The things that they owned they had not bought but they had inherited. For example for James Dillingham Young’s (Jim), he had only one possession, which he was very proud of: the pocket gold watch. Nevertheless, the gold watch was not his by the virtue of buying but he had inherited it from his father who had also inherited it from his grandfather. Della’s hair had grown naturally. There was no financial input in their only two-priced possession that the family-owned. To make matters worse, when they needed to buy gifts for each other, these prized possessions were all they could sell to buy the gift. Della needed $20 and she had to cut her hair and sell it to buy a chain for her husband to be used on his pocket golden watch. She sold her hair at $20 and added $1 from the $1.87 she had to buy her husband a chain to be worn together with his golden watch worth $21, which is left with only $0.87 for other Christmas expenses! Jim, on the other hand, he had to sell his gold watch to buy his wife combs to be making her hair with. To buy gifts for each other for Christmas, each of them had, “…unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house” (para. 10)


Jim and his wife Della as depicted by O. Henry in the short story The Gift of Magi is depicted as a couple who live in extreme poverty to even afford to save something the whole year for Christmas gift. They had to sell their only prized possessions for them to be able to buy each other a gift for Christmas. Despite the poverty and lack of material possession, the couple was wealthy of love, which steered them to sell their most valuable possessions to please each other. Nevertheless, the gift they bought for each other turned out to be ‘useless’ at the time as they were supposed to complement the prized possessions of their partner which they had already sold.

According to the story, the love they have towards each other makes them appear very rich though they have nothing. This love motivates them to give up the things they value the most in their lives so that they can buy presents for their loved ones. Maybe their poverty enables them to appreciate what matters (Henry, O., et al.)

Works Cited

Mary Moon, Jeff Eklund, Hannah Lindmark. “‘Gift of the Magi’ — Mary Moon, Jeff Eklund, Hannah Lindmark.” English / “Gift of the Magi” — Mary Moon, Jeff Eklund, Hannah Lindmark,”Gift of the Magi” — Mary Moon, Jeff Eklund, Hannah Lindmark.

Henry, O., et al. “‘The Gift of the Magi’ and Other Stories Themes.” GradeSaver,

McManus, Dermot. “The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry.” The Sitting Bee, 30 Apr. 2016,

“The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry.”,,

The Gift Of The Magi by O. Henry – Online Literature.