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Especially when you are young, short stories seem like they should have some tremendous payoff at the end, if for no other reason than to justify their very brevity.  Or perhaps that is simply a function of the fact that we all grow up reading the great tales of O. Henry.  And of all those stories and of all those shocking payoffs, there is perhaps no other twist quite like the one at the end of Gift of the Magi.

Jim and Della Young are a wretchedly poor young married couple.  Della has just $1.87 to buy a Christmas gift for Jim and between them they have precious little of any value:

    Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a
    mighty pride. One was Jim's gold watch that had been his father's and his grandfather's. The other
    was Della's hair. 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.
    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.

Well, you either know the rest or else I wouldn't want to ruin it for you.  Suffice it to say that O. Henry leaves us with the following thought:

    The magi, as you know, were wise men--wonderfully wise men-who brought gifts to the Babe in
    the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no
    doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have
    lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely
    sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these
    days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive
    gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

This exquisite little story beautifully captures the spirit of the season.  It's one for the whole family to enjoy as, with warmth and wit,  it imparts the age old lesson about it being better to give than to receive.


Grade: (A+)


See also:

O. Henry Links:
-ESSAY: The History of O. Henry’s ‘The Gift of the Magi’ (Patrick Sauer, 12/23/19, SMITHSONIANMAG.COM)

Book-related and General Links:
    -City of Austin: Parks and Recreation: O. Henry Museum
    -O. Henry's Texas
    -O. Henry (The Greensboro Historical Museum)
    -ESSAY: O. HENRY  American Short Story Writer  By Joseph S. Roucek
    -ESSAY:   O. Henry and His Critics (Stephen Leacock, Reprinted from: The New Republic   Vol. 9,  No. 109, Dec. 2, 1916)
    -ARTICLE: An Exile in Paradise  (Raymond Lowry, Cocoanut Telegraph)
    -The O. Henry Internet Series
    -ETEXT: The Gift of the Magi
    -GUIDE: (The Ladder Series, English Language Programs Division, USIA)
    -ETEXT: The Ransom of Red Chief