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Analysis on the Gift of the Magi

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Analysis on the Gift of the Magi


   O .Henry is an American world-famous writer of English stories .As a great master of the art of fiction, he has been popular mainly for his short stories .They are typically American ,portraying various types of people in the United States .His stories usually deal with some self-sacrificing members of a family who is undergoing hardship but with a kind heart .Although his plot is full of coincidence ,the surprise ending is his specialty and appeals very much to the reader .His stories characteristically express the effect of coincidence on characters through humor ,grim irony ,and often had surprise endings, a device that would become identified with his name .In addition ,his warmth of human understanding and sympathy with the “underdog “give many of his stories poignancy .

The Gift of the Magi is one of his most successful works in which a young couple is very much in love with each other but can barely afford their one-room apartment. For Christmas, they each make a sacrifice to purchase a gift for the other, with ironic results. The moral of the story is that physical possessions, however valuable they may be, are of little value in the grand scheme of things. The true unselfish love that the characters, Jim and Della, share is greater than their possessions. O. Henry ends the story by clarifying the metaphor between the characters in the story, Della and James (or Jim), and the Biblical Magi. The Gift of the Magi features O. Henry's characteristic twist ending and use of flowery diction.

    The story contains many of the elements for which O. Henry is widely known, including poor, working-class characters, a humorous tone, realistic detail, and a surprise ending. A major reason given for its enduring appeal is its affirmation of unselfish love. Such love, the story and its title suggest, is like the gifts given by the wise men, called Magi, who brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the newborn Jesus.

    Generally speaking, The Gift of the Magi is a theme story .As we all know, theme is the subject of a piece of writing, in other words , the implicit meaning of a literary text .It is of great importance of the literary works. Only with a given theme is a story complete and meaningful .As for this special story, the theme itself is quite clear: love is a paramount and essential element in the real life .Without love, everything is of no meaning .To respect other’s love and at the same time to love others are significant symbols of human civilization .To look into the theme in this story, four factors must be paid special attention to:

1. Ingenious Design

Coincidence is a crucial device to develop the plot and attract the reader’s attention .Here, in this story, the author achieves it triumphantly. First of all, the concrete time is showed before us: “the next day would be Christmas”.  Della planned to give her husband Jim “Something fine and rare and sterling--something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim”.  However, she has got only “One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies.” Here, the writer has so many words to say .The following text tells that she has to cut her hair to buy a gift for her Jim .She spent the money buying the watch, since” it was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation--as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it”. Meanwhile, Jim knew nothing of Della’s action .He sold out his favorite watch and bought a comb for her .The moment he saw the watch, he was greatly astonished. “Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. “The writer doesn’t describe the expressions when Della saw the comb .Instead, he depicted the comb in details: For there lay The Combs--the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jeweled rims--just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. It is really a pity that “the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.”

   2. Abundant Detail Depiction

At the very beginning, the story tells us that “One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all.” Not only with so little money, the couch is “shabby little “; it was “a furnished flat at $8 per week”. Besides, “in the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring.” The actions are described detailedly when she got a new idea: then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.  Such kinds of details can be easily found in this story .Take another sentence for example, "If Jim doesn't kill me," she said to herself, "before he takes a second look at me, he'll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do--oh! What could I do with a dollar and eighty- seven cents?" The psychological movements here can show us her worry about Jim’s anger for her cutting hair.

   3. Humorous and Salt Language

In this story, the author uses many rhetoric devices, such as exaggeration, trope, etc. For instance, “So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating. ” Here, the bitter and black humor comes immediately before the reader. The “pier-glass between the windows of the room” is so narrow that Della can just observe her “reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips”. The slender Della “has mastered it ”. The detail makes us feel funny but even sadder. Della's hair is so charming that “had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out 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. “The writer uses so many words to depict her hair here .The trope used here is quite lifelike. What is still more, the "Dillingham" had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. “When their income lowers, even the letter “D ”can not be seen clearly.

   4. Narration like Taletelling

The author wanted to educate the common people with the theme of love .The efficient method is to be the narrator himself. Take a look at this sentence. “While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home.” From it, we can realize the deepening of Della .Another example can be easily found: Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim's present. “The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.  “Is also a clear point for this purpose?

    At the end, the author summarizes the whole story with educational words,” 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. “Does the writer really think that these two persons are really foolish? Absolutely not. “O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. “ The real purpose he speaks this way is that the true love is the most valuable thing in the world. He emphasized the theme of love again at the very end of this story .

   Della and Jim are the common people in the lower class of the capitalism society .However, the hard, miserable life does not wear down the true love between them .They have the courage to sacrifice and devote selflessly for each other .And more importantly, they still keep the virtues of simplicity and kind heart . In reality, they are the true “Magi “with courage and wisdom.