Gift from the Magi
In the story “The Gift of the Magi”, O. Henry uses situational irony, diction, and
foreshadowing to create a mood of suspense and a surprise ending. The Magi, means
wise men. The wise men brought to the Christ child gifts and gold. Della had only one
dollar and eighty-seven cents. Even then one dollar and eighty-seven cents couldn’t buy
anything extremely nice. In “The Gift of the Magi”, we learn what makes a gift priceless.
We also learn the meaning of sacrificial giving.
Situational irony is used to create a mood of suspense and a surprise ending.
Situational irony occurs when there is a contrast between what would seem appropriate
and what really happens or when there is a contradiction between what we expect and
what really does take place. The author, O. Henry, is known for his use of the ironic twist
at the ends of his stories. In the story, “The Gift of the Magi”, we expect that Jim will
not receive anything for Christmas. Instead he receives a platinum chain for his pocket
watch. Della had sacrificed her greatest earthly possession, her hair, to pay for the watch.
The full impact of the irony occurs when the reader realizes Jim has sold his watch to buy
Della jeweled combs for her hair. Now, Della can not use the combs and Jim can not use
the watch chain. It becomes obvious that in this story, O. Henry uses a double twist of
O. Henry also uses what every writer uses, diction. Diction is a writer’s or
speaker’s choice of words and an essential element of a writer’s style. O. Henry uses
expressive phrases that relate to the time period of the story. Phrases such as
“appertaining thereunto”, which means belonging to, help to create a mood of realism.
One particularly familiar use of diction is the idiom in the first paragraph. The author
states that Della “bulldozed the grocer, the butcher and the vegetable man”. This use of
diction emphasizes the desperate measures Della has gone to in order to save money for
Jim’s gift. It also adds flavor and wit to the story. The connotations of words are also an
important aspect of diction. Connotations are all the meanings, associations, or emotions
that have come to be attached to some words. An example would be the word vestibule
mentioned in the story referring to the entrance to the apartment building. This word
normally refers to the lobby of a Church. O. Henry’s which
O. Henry also uses foreshadowing to create a mood of suspense and a
surprise ending. While reading “The Gift of the Magi”, the reader could predict that Jim
would not have received a gift, because Della had only one dollar and eighty-seven cents.
Another example of foreshadowing occurs when Della stands in front of the narrow
mirror, looking sad as she slowly lets her hair down. Then she quickly grabs her coat and
rushes out the door. The reader is not sure what to think until Della stops in front of the
sign that reads, “Mme. Sofrone. Hair Goods of All Kinds”. At this point Della’s plan
becomes clear and the reader has to face the unthinkable. O. Henry’s writing leads the
reader to make a prediction. Finding out that prediction is incorrect leads to the irony.
In “The Gift of the Magi”, O. Henry uses situational irony, diction, and
foreshadowing to create a timeless story about the true meaning of giving. He describes
Della and Jim as both foolish and wise, an oxymoron. It might have been foolish for two
“children” to sacrifice for each other their greatest treasure. But, according to O. Henry,
“..such as they are the wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the Magi’.