The Gift of the Magi is a timeless story of love, devotion, and sacrifice with an ironic bittersweet twist. It begs an answer to the question, what would you give for the one you love? To this day I cannot read this short story by O. Henry without a tremendous lump in my throat.
It is a period piece set in a time where $1.87 was not much money to buy a gift, much like today and a salary of $20 a week was worth as little as $200 a week in our time, but for our purposes the year is of no consequence.
Della and Jim were a young married couple, much in love and much out of prosperity. The author assures they were not of beggar status, but not far removed. James Dillingham Young worked hard and his beautiful adoring wife, Della, was upset by the fact that she had little money on the eve of Christmas to buy her beloved Jim a present, despite saving for months. The one and only item of value she possessed; a long brown cascade of hair falling below her knees. Her hair was to her and Jim a crowning glory, of which both were terribly proud. Jim also had one prized possession of a gold watch. Della finds a way to buy Jim a present worthy of her love for him. She decides to part with her tresses. After her hair is gone her only thought becomes what to buy and she searches the stores for a fitting gift. Once home she considers what Jim will think of her. Della works long and hard making the ravages left resemble something acceptable with tiny tight curls all over her head. If he does not kill me before he takes a second look, he will say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl.
Della desperately hopes Jim will still find her pretty and will explain how quickly her hair grows. She will explain it was for good reason that she sold her hair for $20. It was to buy a platinum fob equally suitable for her Jim as well as The Watch.
On his entrance Jim simply stares at Della. She cannot grasp the emotion on his face. As she blurts out her reasons and implores him to understand the depths of her love exceeded her love of her hair. Jim tells her he could never love her less and hands her a Christmas gift. Della opens the box and discovers a set of tortoise shell hair combs with rhinestones of the perfect shade for her now missing hair. Her delight turns to sadness and tears as she remembers what she has done. She also remembers to give Jim his gift. She opens her hands to show the fob for the oh, so precious watch, knowing he will love it too. Jim then explains that he too sacrificed for his beloved Della. The Watch has been sold to purchase The Combs.
Sacrifice in the name of love is very forgiving. When people give from the heart, they give of the heart.