Gift of Magi: Narrative Essay
Theme is a complex trait of fiction which requires more than one word to describe it. It is the gist of the story which reveals the vast meaning lying beneath the plot (Chapter 7). Accompanied with characters and the narrative techniques, it is narrowed into a main idea which eventually comes in the forefront towards the end of the story. In the short story, Gift of Magi, the underlying idea is the unselfish love between two young and poor couple who sacrifice their best possession to get a Christmas present for each other. O. Henry artfully pens the whole story which touches the heart of the readers in a remarkable way. These two aspects combine in this paper to unfold the literary elements that make up the story Gift of Magi.
O. Henry is an omniscient narrator of the short story under discussion. He tells the story of Jim and Della (Mr. and Mrs. James Dillingham Young) starting off with their financial situation and the helplessness of Della who feels dreadfully upset with herself for not being able to afford any present for Christmas. The stress on the amount of money left in the house is a way O. Henry asserts how unbelievable it was for Della to accept it, that she kept counting it to convince herself or come to terms with fate.
“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.” (Chapter 5 p.88)Surprisingly, what she is most upset about is that she would not be able to give any present to her beloved husband. Here, the relationship between Jim and Della is openly disclosed to the readers. Her idea of selling her beautiful hair to purchase a worthy gift for Jim is very appealing to her but at the same time it is a huge sacrifice she would have to make. On the other hand Jim considers selling his gold watch handed down to him by his great grandfather, to get something worthy for his wife.
Emotions intensify as the narrator describes the moment of their final decision. Their intentions remain intact even after gaining a handsome amount of money which they could have otherwise used to purchase anything for material gain. Readers’ heart beats directly proportional to time as Della returns home after buying a beautiful chain for her Jim’s watch and Jim returning from the shop buying combs for his Della’s beautiful hair. One obvious detail of narration can be pointed by the reader that is narrator’s observation of only Della’s emotions throughout the story. O. Henry does not mention how Jim was feeling while purchasing The Combs for Della “that she worshipped long in a Broadway window”. Her feminine trait is greatly discussed specially when she unwraps the gift she receives from Jim:
“White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.”(Chapter 5 p. 92)
There is little that one can say after the story ends except what O. Henry has to say to his readers. He refers to Magi’s buying “valuable” gifts earlier in the story which he refers back towards the end as a biblical Christmas story. The theme is revisited in a more direct tone than in the beginning of the story. The plot and symbolism significantly affect the narrative theme of “unselfish sacrifice”. The couple may have appeared as the most foolish to have made such hasty move for each other but it is the wisest among all who exchange gifts. And the wisest of them all are the magi according to O. Henry in the concluding remark that addresses the readers unswervingly. Previously he had referred to the sacrifice of Jim and Della by giving references of historical and biblical figures like Sheba and Solomon for escalating the moment of climax.
“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.” (Chapter 5 p. 89)
The symbolism employed by the narrator represents the thought process which combines the imagination and words together in an articulate manner to reveal the lesson behind the story. Della’s hair represents beauty and Jim’s gold watch represents wealth. Each of these symbols play a chief role in identifying the theme of the story (Chapter 7); those who give and receive gifts with pure intentions are the wisest people who have unrequited love for humankind.
Chapter 5. Plot, Point of View, Tone.
Chapter 7. Short Story: Theme and Symbolism.