The Plot Spot plot summary: The Gift of the Magi
O. Henry (1906)
Della had saved exactly $1.86 cents for Christmas the next morning. She lived with her husband in an apartment that cost $8 a week. The apartment had been affordable when Jim was earning $30 a week, but now he was only earning $20 a week. She sobbed because she had saved so hard to buy Jim something nice for Christmas, but $1.86 was all that she could pull together.
The only things of any real value to them were Jim's gold watch--a family heirloom--and Della's beautiful brown hair that reached past her knees. She decided to sell her hair to buy Jim a present and was pleased when she received $20 for the long locks. She searched all the stores for the perfect gift and finally found a beautiful platinum chain that would be perfect for Jim's watch. She gave the clerk $21 and was pleased that Jim could finally discard the worn leather strap he had always used for his watch. Although Jim loved her hair, the sacrifice was worth such a wonderful gift.
When Jim arrived home from work he looked shocked at her appearance. But she couldn't quite read his thoughts by his expression. She jumped on the moment to tell him how fast her hair grows and that she had sold it to buy him a beautiful gift. Jim told her that he would always love her but that she might want to look at her present to understand why she had startled him. She opened her present to discover that he had bought her a set of beautiful combs that she had long coveted.
Her sadness quickly turned to joy when she showed Jim the fabulous chain she had bought for him. He took the chain and tumbled onto the couch. He smiled and told her that he had sold the watch in order to buy the combs for her. Many would view this as a tragedy, but to Della and Jim it showed the depths off their love for each other.
“The magi, as you know, were wise men--wonderfully wise men--who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.”
Suzzallo Library, Seattle, Washington, USA