Why Was Jim's Gift to Della Ironic in "The Gift of the Magi"? Updated


StoryRhyme tags: situational irony gift of the magi irony short literature story stories language terms what arts literary definition elements element jim della love

IGI illustrator P.J. Lynch takes you step-by-step through the creation for
the cover
of The Gift of The Magi, the well known Christmas story by O.Henry,

Jim And Della's Gifts; Irony; Update

Okay, since it's the season of giving and since I don't want to feel like I've got spiders in my soul like The Grinch, I'm directing this post to the many of you who are seeking the answer to the question: What is ironic about the gifts Jim and Della gave to each other. Also, what were they really giving...

To recap: Young couple, struggling to get by. They each have their thing; the one thing that is most important to them.

Della's thing: Killer hair. She's got long, beautiful locks. She's proud of her tresses; spends time carefully brushing them out each day. Her beautiful hair is that thing which helps her keep her head held high even when people are giving her the "look" for having such shabby clothes. Della's hair is important to her self worth and general well being.

Jim's thing: His beautiful gold pocket watch (not something you'd find in the JC Penney catalog). Jim loves this watch. Though he, too, may have worn-out clothes, he's got this thing of beauty he can pull out of his pocket to admire. It reminds him that things aren't quite as bleak as they may seem.

The gifts: Della has been coveting beautiful (expensive) hair combs. She imagines how lovely she'd be with them adorning her precious hair. Jim has been eyeing a beautiful watch chain and fob to go with his beloved pocket watch. (The chain and fob he currently owns are worn and don't do justice to his watch.)

The conflict: Neither has enough money to buy each other's gift.

The solution: Della sells her hair (her hair!) to buy Jim the chain and fob for his watch. Jim sells his beloved pocket watch to buy Della her beautiful hair combs.

The irony: This is about the most direct example I've ever seen of (drumroll, please) situational irony. Della finds herself with beautiful hair combs but no hair in which to put them. Jim finds himself with a grand chain and fob for his pocket watch but no pocket watch to attach them to. This is ironic because there is a discrepancy between the expectation on the part of the giver/recipient and the fulfillment of the gifts that they give/receive.

What did they really give to each other (for those of you looking for the subtext)? Well, to me, it's love. They loved each other so much, they gave up that thing which was most precious to make the other happy.

I hope that clears things up for anyone who needs to get their paper in.

Once again, I'll say that this is a great story. O. Henry was truly a writer for the working man/woman. Read our StoryRhyme.com bio of him here.

Merry Christmas!

Read (or listen to) "The Gift of the Magi" on StoryRhyme.com


Sunday, November 23, 2008Why Was Jim's Gift to Della Ironic in "The Gift of the Magi"?

These were the words used in a search query by someone (likely a high school freshman) who found StoryRhyme.com. To the seeker: I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that you didn't read the story, did you? Because if you did, you'd know that O. Henry's use of irony is not exactly subtle. In fact, if at first you didn't know what irony meant, you would after reading "The Gift of the Magi."

My first impulse was to make something up like, "It was ironic that Jim spent his entire savings on a bag of premium sheep chow when Della had already sold their prize pet to buy Jim that merino wool sweater he'd had his eye on." No, I won't do that, but I will say that this classic story is particularly fitting for the times we're living in. When Lexus tells the men in our lives to "Give her a December to remember" and they've got nothing in their pockets but a little lint and a maxed-out credit card, that's got to hurt a little. But that's not what it's all about.

O. Henry cuts right to the heart of our human condition. Jim and Della are poor, but they love each other. Their gifts are selfless. I'm sure that Jim and Della would not always be poor. In the story they're young, just starting out. After a few years of working hard, they'd probably find themselves moving up in the world, their circumstances no doubt improving, but I'd bet no gifts would ever be as precious as the ones they gave each other that Christmas.

I don't ever want a Lexus with a bow around it. I don't ever want to be that ridiculously wealthy that Husband has no idea what to give me other than a luxury car wrapped in a bow (which is about as subtle as a herd of stampeding elephants). That gift is so "Real Housewives of Orange County," bereft of imagination; overdone and ostentatious (like so many things in that world). It really is the little things, the selfless things, the love expressed in quiet ways, that is so meaningful.

"The Gift of the Magi" is a story for these times; it is itself a gift. (Hint: you can download the pdf, or mp3, print it out or burn it to a CD, and wrap a bow around it. Give it to someone you love.)

Read (or listen to) "The Gift of the Magi" on StoryRhyme.com

StoryRhyme tags: irony gift magi short literature story stories language terms what arts literary definition elements element

HTML Comment Box is loading comments...