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A Critical Analysis of O’ Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi”

By Shavira Sarashita


O-Henry (September 11 1862- june 5, 1910) is  a famous American writer whose  real name  is William Sydney Porter . O-Henry’s  short stories are known for their wit, wordplay, warm characterization, and clever twist endings.  “The Gift Of The Magi” is one of interesting short story which is I have already read. Therefore, I decided to chose this short story as my mid-term paper. In this paper I will be explaining all of the elements in this short story and those elements are plot, arrangement, point of view, narrator, character and settings.


Plot is artistic arrangement or a design of events in a story or plot could be interpreted the main events of a play, novel, movie, or similar work, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence. Plot can be found in the beginning of the story or in the end of the story. But usually plot can be found in the beginning of the story. In pursuance of Frey’s tag pyramid a plot of story consist of exposition, complication, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution or denouement. Exposition is introducing of character in the story. And it can be interpreted starting of the situation in the story and, beside of introducing of character in the story exposition can introducing of setting, background, etc. complication is introducing of conflict in the story. There are two kinds of conflict; first is external and the second is internal. External conflict happens between character, and the character and society. Internal conflict the inner conflict is within a character. Here, there is the situation/new character/changes of personality/changes from one of character in the story. Rising action is continuation from complication means that cause of what is causing those changes in the story. Climax is the peak of the story. It can be like take a decision/ action for conflict. Falling action is when the moment in the story is going to be cleared. The last are resolution when story has happy or good ending and denouement (when story has sad ending).

In “The Gift of The Magi”, the expostion happens when the main character is introduced. There was a woman named Della. She was counting her money and realized that it was not enough to byu a present for Jim, her husband. She felt really sad that the next day would be Christmas and she still did not know what to do. She really wanted to buy Jim a present.

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After exposition, the story goes on to rising action. It happens when Della was totally in deep confussion about what she could do. She only got $1.87 as the result after she had saved every pennies for months. She knew that $1.87 would never be enough for such a great present. She cried for a while but then she found out that she had to take a risk. It is told that Della had an extremely long brown hair. She immediately went out of her house and searched for any store that would buy her hair. While she was walking through the street, she suddenly stopped since she read a sign said “Mme. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” She rushed into the store, met a woman named Madame Sofronie, and asked her if she wanted to buy her hair. Madame Sofronie then examined her hair and quickly told Della that her hair was worth $20. After Della got the money, she went to a store where she finally found the right present for Jim. It was a simple platinum fob chain, and she thought it would be perfect for Jim’s watch. The chain reflects the simplicity and quietness of Jim. Della bought it for $21 and got back home with her 87 cents.
The rising action always lead the story to the climax. The climax in this story happens when Jim finally went home from work. Seeing his wife’s hair cut off, he suddenly just stand still at his place without being angry, surprised, or disapproval. He asked his wife to make sure that her hair had been really gone. Della cried and told him that she cut it off and sold it.

The climax goes down to the falling action. The falling action in this story is when Jim took out a package from his coat and spoke to Della. He seemed to feel alright. He did not mind about Della’s short hair. He asked Della to unwrap the package to make Della understand why Jim was like that at the first time he saw Della. She opened the package and cried hysterically. It was a set of comb made of pure tortoise shell with jewelled rims. It was all that she had dreamed for long time. After that, Della gave Jim the chain that she bought, and asked him to try it on his watch. However, Jim did not obey that. He threw himself on a couch and smiled.

The ending of the story can be considered as resolution since Jim and Della were happy in the end. Jim finally told his wife to put the presents away for a while and stated that they were too nice to be just a present. While sitting on the couch, he told Della that he had sold his watch to buy the comb set for Della. Now, Jim asked his wife to prepare the dinner for them both.


Character is personality or attitude for a person in story. The types of character are divided into two categories there are role and personality. from role are divided into two major and minor characters. Meanwhile from personality, there are flat, round, static, dynamic, stock, hero, anti-hero, and allusion.

There are major and minor characters in the story based on their roles. Della and Jim is the major characters. Della is considered to be the major character since she is the one who appears from the beginning until the end of the story. It seems that the beginning of the story is telling about Della’s confussion to buy present for Jim, her husband until she finally did a sacrifice in order to be able to buy a nice present. Meanwhile, Jim can be also said that he is major character as he is another person who has a relationship with Della, the first major character. Jim also has interactions with Della that create a good flow of the story. Besides, there is actually one minor character. She is Madame Sofronie who was the woman buying Della’s hair for $20. The reason why she is the minor character is that she only appeared in the middle of the story for a moment.

The next explanation is based the characters’ personality. There are only three kinds of characters, which are flat, dynamic, static, and stock characters. Della is dynamic character in the story since her physical appearance changed in the end of the story. In the beginning, it is described that she has a beautiful long brown hair. It looked like a brown waterfall. However, she cut off her hair in order to buy a present for her husband, so her hair became very short. Besides, Della is a flat character since her way to interact with other characters throughout the story tends to be the same from the beginning until the end.

Next, Jim can be considered as a flat and static character. Jim’s way of talking remains the same since he only appeared almost in the end of the story. He is static character because his physical appearance did not change at all. The last kind is stock character, which is Madame Sofronie. She is considered as stock character since she tends to be the only complement character.

The definition of a setting in a story is where the story takes place and when the story happens. Every story has a setting. Moreover, setting it is not only about place. Year, day, month, in the morning, or even the story shows a time such as 00.00 these are include setting and the name of those are time setting.
In “The Gift of The Magi”, the story takes place at Della and Jim’s house, Madame Sofronie’s store, and the store where Della got the chain for the present. It took place at Della and Jim’s house when Della was counting her money to buy a perfect present for Jim, and when Della and Jim were finally meeting and talking about their presents in the end of the story. Next, it took place at Madame Sofronie’s store when Della finally decided to cut her hair off and sold it to Madame Sofronie for $20. Lastly, there was one store when Della finally found the platinum fob chain to be the right present for Jim.

The time setting of the story is considered to be in a Christmas Eve since it was explained that Della was confused about what she was going to buy Jim’s Christmas present on the following day. Specifically, it was in the afternoon when Della was counting money, going to Madame Sofronie’s store, and buying the fob chain for Jim’s watch. In the end, it seemed to be in the evening when Della and Jim finally met and talked about their presents.
 Point of view

Definition of point of view is the position of the narrator which is relation to the story, as indicated by the narrator’s outlook from which the events are depicted and from the attitude towards the character. There are two types of narrator, which are participant and non-participant narrator. Participant narrator takes a role in the story. It tells the story from the first person point of view and uses the pronoun “I” while non-participant narrator does not take any role in the story. It only tells the story from the third person point of view and uses the pronoun “she”, “he”, “it”, and names as well. Non-participant narrator is also divided into three branch, which are omniscient or all-knowing, limited omniscience, and objective.

The narrator of “The Gift of The Magi” is non-participant. It uses the limited omniscience third person point of view. The narrator tells the story by using the pronoun “she”, “he”, “it”, and names to mention all the characters and other things. It is considered to be limited omniscience as the narrator only knows all about the major characters, which are Della and Jim. The narrator explains the physical appearance and all the feelings of Della and Jim.


As definition theme is the central idea or ideas explored by a literary work. Usually themes of the story have more one theme. Themes of the story could be themes of death, themes of revenge, themes of action and many more. It can be said “The Gift of The Magi” has the theme “Sacrifice sometimes can be pointless.” I could tell that since Della’s sacrifice to cut her hair off to buy the chain for Jim’s watch became pointless because in the end, Jim told Della that he had sold his valuable watch to buy her a set of comb. Unfortunately, Della’s hair was now very short. In conclusion, their sacrifice does not make any result.


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