O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi" might be the most famous short story of all time. It's certainly the most famous of O. Henry's, standing out among many stories with surprise endings, like "The Last Leaf" and "After Twenty Years".

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Its not-to-be-missed ending has made it a favorite of many readers. If you haven't read the story yet, or don't know the ending, please don't spoil it for yourself. At around 2,100 words, it offers a large payoff for a small time investment.

This article contains:

a summary,a look at themes,Biblical alllusions, andthe meaning of the title.


Summary of "The Gift of the Magi"

Della's scrimping has allowed her to save one dollar and eighty-seven cents. Tomorrow is Christmas. She flops onto her shabby couch and cries.

She lives in a furnished flat at a rent of eight dollars a week. The mailbox and doorbell are broken. Her husband, Jim, makes $20 a week.

Della powders her cheeks after her cry and then looks out the window. She had been planning on getting Jim a nice Christmas present, something worthy of him.

Suddenly, Della moves from the window to the mirror. She lets her long hair down. It's one of the couple's two prized possessions, the other one being Jim's heirloom watch. Her hair falls below her knees. She quickly puts it up again and pauses as a tear falls.

She puts on her old coat and hat, and hurries down to the street. She reaches a hair goods shop and enters. She asks the owner if she will buy her hair. They reach an agreement for $20.

After two hours of careful searching through the stores, Della finds the perfect gift—a platinum fob chain. It suits Jim and his exquisite watch exactly. It has an unadorned simplicity and quality. She pays $21 for it.

When she gets home, Della takes out her curling irons and does her hair as nicely as she can. She looks at herself critically and wonders how Jim will react to the change.

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At 7 PM, Della has coffee ready and is prepared to make supper. She waits by the door with the fob chain in her hand. She hopes Jim will still think she's pretty.

Jim enters looking serious. His gaze is fixed on Della. He has a peculiar expression that she can't interpret. She's afraid. She goes to him and explains herself. Jim struggles to understand that she's cut her hair and that it's gone.