The Story That Keeps on Giving
Although a century separates the people of today and the published date of “The Gift of the Magi,” there are numerous reasons why this short story by O. Henry has timeless ideas and experiences. Today we can relate to and learn from the characters, plot, and theme of this story.
To begin with, all in America are familiar with the custom of gift giving. Gift as defined by Webster’s Collegiate Thesaurus is, “something freely given by one person to another for his benefit or pleasure.” Since they are little, most children in the United States have had some gift given to them with the purpose of making them happy. Whether it is a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or friend who has given the gift, most have experienced the feeling of being cherished when they have been given it. Although the giving of gifts stems from the Christian faith and many people today have no religious affiliation or believe in another mainstream faith, the practice of giving presents is common. Young men and women are aware of buying gifts during the Christmas season due to the flood of commercials on television, billboards, and internet. The media inundates the young and old with the need to purchase items for others. We can relate to the pressure felt by Jim and Della to find the perfect gift for each other. Readers can have real empathy for the main characters because they, too, have probably witnessed their family members working hard to figure out the best present to give loved ones.
In addition, we can relate to not having any or enough money to acquire the Christmas gifts. Jim and Della are poor. They are so poor that they pawn their most precious items, hair and watch, to have the money necessary to buy the perfect gifts. The past few years have not been years of surplus. It has been years of difficult financial times. Many adults have had their unemployment run out and have either stopped looking for work or are under employed. Foreclosures have been on the rise. Extended family members are moving in together to save money. Now more than ever, parents must tighten the belt and cut corners in their spending habits. Many families do not have money for extras. As numerous families are spending less in order to pay the mortgage, property taxes, rent, and utility bills, young adults are watching the grownups stretch the dollar and are feeling the impact of limited income. This new reality for many will help them have empathy for Jim and Della who each find a creative way to obtain the extra money needed for their Christmas gifts. We will also be able to make a personal connection to this story. Although many may not have been in a pawn shop, most are very familiar with E-bay, Amazon, Craig’s List and other numerous websites designed for people to sell their personal possessions. Millions of people have used these sites to sell items for money. Young adults today probably know someone who has sold something on one of these sites as a way not only to sell the item but also as a way to earn extra money. Having a lack of funds particularly during the holiday season is a concept that is still true today for many families.
Furthermore, giving gifts is one of the five main ways to express and experience love. Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell write in their book, The Five Love Languages of Children that there are five love languages which include physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, and acts of service. The authors write, “Giving and receiving gifts as a way to express love is a universal phenomenon…A true gift…is an expression of love for the individual and is freely given by the donor” (73). Because gift giving is one of the five main ways people express love, men and women will get a true sense of the sincere love that Jim and Della have for each other. Since gift giving is a universal way to show love, readers understand the positive feelings associated with both the giving of gifts and the receiving of gifts. For many people, “The Gift of the Magi” can teach and remind them of the beauty of meaningful gift giving. This short story can be a relevant tool to teach that it is the “thought that counts” when purchasing a gift for someone else.
Also, we can empathize with the disappointment Della and Jim experience. Although not every person has bought a gift that ended in disappointment, he or she can relate to the frustrations that sometimes are a part of life. As we read of the protagonists moving on and not really letting the mix up ruin their Christmas, we can identify with this choice. Chances are by the time we read this short story, we, too, will have experienced dissatisfactions of some sort in life. We can easily see the importance of not overreacting when life hands us lemons instead of lemonade. When Jim states, “And suppose you put the chops on,” we can see the phrase “pressing on” put into action despite the disappointments. Again, this short story teaches all the wonderful life lesson of not letting the sad circumstances of life keep us forever down in the dumps. Rather, this story shows all who read it how perseverance is done. All would greatly benefit from reading and discussing this story.
In summary, “The Gift of the Magi” is an ageless short story that we can appreciate and learn from. It would be wise for parents to share this story with their teenagers and teach them the relevant life lessons woven throughout it. From the believable characters to the unfortunate turn of events to the theme of sacrificial gift giving, all can benefit from reading and discussing this classic story.
Father God, help us to love others. Amen.