The Gift of Magi Summary and Analysis: O. Henry

Read our complete notes on the short story The Gift of Magi by O. Henry. Our notes cover The Gift of Magi summary, characters, themes, and analysis.

The Gift of Magi Introduction:

The story is written by William Sydney Porter, pen name O’ Henry. The story is about a young couple James Young Dillingham and Della Dillingham who love each other endlessly. They live in a small and simple but well-furnished and clean apartment. It’s good enough for a family of only two people.

James known as Jim is a gentleman who is being paid 20 dollars a week. The couple faces difficulty in meeting their basic necessities of life as their income is not much. Although they are poor, they have the wealth of love among them. James loves Della and for her, he wants to do anything to make her feel like a queen and to keep her happy. Della is a beautiful and gorgeous lady who is madly in love with her husband James. She loves him the way he loves her, live for her and takes care of her.

The story sets in the time of Christmas days. The story starts with Della Dillingham and her worries for the coming Christmas. She has only 1.87 dollars and she has to buy a beautiful and valuable gift for James to show her endless and passionate love to him. The money she has is not enough to buy a gift for James which makes Della nervous. She feels like crying because she doesn’t want to imagine how it would be not giving a gift to James on Christmas night. She thinks the only way she can let her husband recognize that she loves her very much is to give him a gift.

Her worries disappoint her with the passage of time because she is running out of it. She doesn’t know what to do and where to go to buy a perfect beautiful gift for James her husband.

The Gift of Magi Summary:

Della Dillingham holding 1.87 dollars in her hand wanders here and there in the room. She is worried because it’s Christmas Eve and she needs to buy a gift for her loving and caring husband to show that she loves her too. She feels like crying because she doesn’t know what to do.

The couple lives in a small and simple apartment. James Young Dillingham is a gentleman and husband of Della. He works in an office in the city. Recently he was receiving 30 dollars a week which has drastically fallen to 20 dollars a week and due to which the family upsets a bit. The only pride with Dillingham family has is the gold watch James is having which is believed to be given to his father by his grandfather. On the other side, Della’s most beautiful thing is her hair. James loves her long brown hair.

Della is thinking about how to give James a gift. Meantime she comes in front of the mirror in her room which is not a good enough mirror that is it’s very thin and it becomes difficult for you to have a broader view of yourself in it. Della is a thin girl so she easily catches a view of herself.

In all of her nervousness, she opens her hair which falls to its full length to her knees. She has beautiful brown hair which shines brightly. Anyhow seeing her hair she comes to have an idea in mind. She rushes to the stairs and goes down to the street. She sees the name of the shop on the street Mrs. Sofronie. She runs towards the shop and goes inside and asks Mrs. Sofronie whether she will buy her hair or not. She tells her to open her hair. When she sees her brown hair fall like a stream from top to her knees she at once says 20 dollars. She agrees on giving 20 dollars as Della tells her to give it.

After haircut Della goes to the market to buy a gift for James. Now she has 21 dollars and 87 cents. She crosses the whole market and a number of shops until she finds a beautiful watch chain. When she looks at it she at once thinks of buying it. She buys it and thinks like if it was made for James. She returns home happily. She is smiling and blushing that how happy and delighted James will be when he sees this beautiful watch chain as he was already in need of one.

She comes home and straightly goes to her room. Sitting in her room she thinks about her hair cut which seems more like a schoolboy cut. She becomes slightly upset as it was her most beautiful and dear possession. She imagines how badly James will feel when he comes to know her hair gone. She keeps waiting in her room for James to return home.

At 7 o clock, James arrives and she listens to his steps approaching the room. She excitedly goes downstairs and stops there as James looked at her strangely because of her haircut. She tells him not to look at her like that because she feels bad. She asks whether James loves her in long hair and will not love her like this. James comes near her and says something like a haircut can never lessen my love for you but if you see what I have brought for you as a gift you would feel the same as I felt. Della steps towards the gift and as her white finger opens the box tears comes out of her eyes. There are two beautiful jeweled combs which she has seen in a shop and wanted it but she couldn’t buy it. James says that he sold his gold watch to buy this for you. Now your hair is gone so they are of no worth or use for you. Della though upset builds courage and says to James to forget about these gifts as they are worthy of not our use for now and let’s enjoy our Christmas night as we are losing time.

The Gift of Magi Themes:

Endless Love:

One of the themes of this story written by O’Henry is the revelation of endless love between the couple. They both sell their valuable things to buy gifts for one another and to show how much they love each other. Della sells her hair and buys a watch chain for her husband and lover as he has not got a good chain with his family watch. So she sells her hair a beautiful thing of her for her love. One the other side James sells his family watch given to him by his father to buy a gift for her wife. This shows and proves how much they love each other and how much they are careless of their valuable things in front of their love.


Both Della and James are very much selfless people and a good making couple. They sacrifice their valuable things for each other without any hesitation and makes love win in the end. Their selflessness makes them attractive and affectionate towards each other as love speaks in their relation.


One perspective of the story is that it was a silly thing to do to lose your valuable thing which is very much liked by your lover to buy a gift for him/her. This is actually an act of foolishness as both of them did what they thought has to be done and none of them thought of the consequences which were about to occur after their foolish acts. If you want to prove or show your love to him you can confess straightly or love him sincerely and passionately. To show your love you don’t need to buy valuable and expensive gifts and give them to your lover. If he accepts your love he will do it without any gift or present, if he doesn’t then he is not going to do it at any cost.


Irony is one of the beauties of literature. The irony of this story is that wise men or magi are good enough in life as they give gifts to children and teenagers. These gifts should be given to them every Christmas so that they enjoy their Christmas.

The Gift of Magi Character Analysis:

James Young Dillingham:

James Young Dillingham called by Della as Jim is a gentleman of age 22 but has a burden of responsibilities of running home and family. He loves his wife very much and for her happiness, he wants to do anything.

He wants to make his wife feel like Princess. He works in an office in the city. Recently he used to receive 30 dollars a week which has decreased by the office to awful 20 dollars which merely provides him with the basic necessities of life. He silently and secretly sells the only valuable thing that is his watch given to him by his father and to him by his father. Despite the fact that this was his family watch and a symbol of his father’s love he sells it which shows his love for Della.

He is a selfless person and sincere with Della and want to prove to Della how much he loves her. He is calm and committed a person as he does himself whatever he wanted to do and when he returns to home and sees his wife’s hair becomes shocked but do not say anything which would upset or dismantle Della. His love for Della is endless and he is clear in his intentions.

Della Dillingham:

Della is a nice, beautiful and gorgeous lady who is madly in love with James Dillingham. She calls him Jim shortly and with love. She is a good looking girl with beautiful brown hair which are of length from head to knees. She loves her hair very much and because James loves it.

She is very proud of her hair and her beauty as James is inspired by it. She too loves James very much and sells her most valuable thing the one loved by James to buy a watch chain as a Christmas gift for James. She is a delicate person with very less confidence. She cries every now and then when she hasn’t got enough money to buy a gift for James. She thinks less and moves quickly when she has an idea. This also proves her love and her passion. She is the fond of love and at the end throws the gifts away and asks James to forget about it and enjoy the Christmas night.

The Gift of Magi Analysis:

In the first section of the story the writer shows how poor and desperate Della and James are. Saving of 1.87 dollars and holding it tight in the hand shows they are stricken by poverty somehow. Writer’s view of the apartment shows that it’s an old one. The upset behavior of Della shows that the writer is clarifying the conflict been going in Della. She was thinking of a gift to buy and at the same time she has got no money to buy one.

In the next section by defining the value of the things they got was to show that value is subjective. As neither the hair of Della nor the watch of James was jewels but their love and possession of it showed as if those were the most valuable things for them.

In the next section, the writer shows the conservative and typical society which doesn’t care for you and your life or anything whatsoever. As Della went to Mrs. Sofronie to sell her hair to her, she announced a price for it. She didn’t think for a while how beautiful these hair are and that this is the most loved thing every by James in life. She for her sake and benefits cut the hair and gave money happily to Della.

In the next section, the writer wants to show that as Della sacrificed her hair for love but for a single moment she thought about whether James would love her like this or not. James, on the other hand, sold his valuable and precious thing for a gift that’s why he wasn’t upset with Della as he had done the same mistake she did. So he was too regretful for a moment what has he done. Buying gift of combs for hair and hair are gone.

In the last section, the writer wants to say that whatever they did they are sincere and wise and their love is pure. A lover should be like them. They sacrifice for the sake of love which makes them beautiful and wise.