“…curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy” and “hell say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl” (11).
After returning home from her haircut, Della attempts to curl her new, short hair, which prompts the narrator to compare her to a “truant schoolboy” (11). Likewise, Della acknowledges her resemblance to a “Coney Island chorus girl” (11). These similes evoke the extremity of Della’s visual transformation after her haircut. Without her long hair—the most predominant signifier of her beauty—she now takes on a more immature and less womanly appearance. The ry of Della’s drastically different, nearly unrecognizable appearance thus draws heightened attention to the immediate, palpable consequences of her selfless sacrifice for Jims gift.
The story and themes of “Gift of the Magi” revolve around a central metaphor: the comparison of Della and Jim to the magi, who offered gifts to Jesus on the night of his birth. In the closing paragraph, the narrator hails the couple as “the wisest” of all gift-givers and receivers, which culminates with the bold declaration, “Everywhere they are the wisest. They are the magi” (16). While Della and Jim’s sacrifices ironically cancel each other out and render their gifts useless in turn, the narrator claims that their selfless gestures embody the true wisdom and spirit of gift-giving, an art form invented by the magi.
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O. Henry was the pen name of William Sydney Porter, who died in 1910. His stories were renowned for surprise endings, such as the ironic conclusion of “The Gift of the Magi,” which was first published in 1905 by a New York newspaper. The story concerns a wife and husband who secretly sacrifice their favorite possessions to purchase Christmas gifts for each other. Della, the wife, sells her long hair, which is more valuable to her than jewels, so she can buy an expensive watch fob for Jim. His single fine possession is his grandfathers gold pocket watch. As the story closes, Jim tells Della that he sold the watch to purchase a gift for her — jeweled hair combs.
The central metaphor of O. Henrys story alludes to the wealthy wise men, or magi, who delivered rare gifts to baby Jesus in Matthew 2:1-18 of the Bibles New Testament. No wise men visit Della and Jim. O. Henry ends his story with the metaphor, “They are the magi,” in reference to Della and Jim. He precedes this statement by calling them “foolish children” whose sacrifices were both unwise and yet the wisest of all. The narrator thinks Della and Jim are the greatest gift-givers of all time, because their love has caused them to give unselfishly and at great cost. This metaphor underlines the storys theme that love is the best gift of all.
Alicia Rudnickis Library Mix website blends book buzz for all ages. A gardener, she writes for Californias Flowers by the Sea nursery. She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from UC Berkeley, a Master of Arts in education from CU Denver, and has taught K-12.
Metaphors use one object or concept to explain another. In “The Gift of the Magi,” the narrator compares slender Della to a bulldozer. Although she only has $1.87 with which to buy a Christmas gift for her husband, the narrator says she saved it a penny at a time by “bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher.” The bulldozer is a metaphor for the strength of Dellas determination. Later, using another literary device called a simile — a comparison including the word “like” or “as” — the narrator adds to this of power by likening the beauty of her hair to a turbulent river “rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters.”
One confusing metaphor in “The Gift of the Magi” contains conflicting s. After Della sells her hair, she is happy while shopping for Jims gift. The narrator says, “The next two hours tripped by on rosy wings,” then jokingly adds, “never mind the hashed metaphor,” because birds use their wings to fly, not skip. Authors normally avoid mixed metaphors. The narrators joke may have been based on O. Henrys need to meet a deadline — “The Atlantic Monthly” notes that he reportedly wrote the story in less than two hours.
The gift of the magi literary terms
What is an examples of figurative language in The Gift of the Magi?
What literary device is used in The Gift of the Magi?