The story “The Gift of the Magi” which is written by O. Henry follows a young married couple who sacrifice their most prized possessions to buy a Christmas gift for one another. Though the story tells the tale of two people, a large portion of the story involves following Della on her quest to find a gift for Jim. The worry and unease that Della shows toward buying a gift is not caused by wanting to show love to her husband but fear of rejection.
Della fears that by breaking tradition she will also break Jim’s heart, severing his love for her.
Jim and Della’s main conflict is money. While Jim is introduced to the story early on and does not make an appearance until later it can be implied that his external conflict is money. Jim now faces the internal conflict of thinking of how he can support his family on his reduced income. As a man who has the task of supporting his family he experiences a guilt for not being able to provide his loving wife with the luxuries she so deserves.
Della must face the fact that even though she has saved, her penny pinching was simply not enough for the amount she needed. Della then faces internal conflict as she tries to come up with ways to get more money. The money that presents an external conflict has Della retreat inside of her mind to face her internal conflict. Her first thought to get money by cutting her hair was a reference to not only tradition but of feminine roles. Della “rapidly pulls down her hair”(160) so when she visits Madame Sofronie to have it cut it is not questioned, because women made sacrifices for their husbands and it was accepted. Della offering her most precious possession sees it as the only way she can say to her husband that she is truly grateful.
Della runs and ransacks stores looking for the gift that she wanted for her husband. Her ransacking of the stores symbolizes and can be compared to Jim who, can be safely said, ransacked his brain on what the next option he was to take after the pay cut. She eventually is able to find a gift and hurries home. The next scene when Della arrives home and takes the moment to fix her hair up before her husband arrives home symbolizes her ability to imitate her husband and turn a bad situation into a good situation. This is most relevant to say that Della and her husband are equally matched in how they make decisions and in explaining in how both could give up their most precious possessions in thought of one another.
Thinking of the other person is what causes the story to reveal situational irony in its ending. Della and Jim Dillingham have met the result of the actions and that is Della has cut and sold her hair to receive a gift of hair clips and Jim has sold his watch to receive a watch chain. The fact that Jim has sold the watch which has been in his family for years and chose to sacrifice the tradition of passing along the watch is ironic. Jim has broken one tradition to enter into another one, the tradition of making hard sacrifices for those you love. Della who is unaware of the sacrifice that was made on her behalf is also unaware that the tradition that she wanted to avoid breaking was broken by her husband. Della confirms that the tradition of exchanging gifts is broken when her husband says “let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep them awhile” (162), but is reassured that tradition is still present when they spend Christmas enjoying each other’s company.
O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi” was a story not only about the sacrifices made in love but the fear of breaking tradition. Della Dillingham sacrificed her hair to buy a gift of appreciation for the loving husband who provided for her. James Dillingham sacrificed tradition when he sold his watch to buy a present for his beloved wife only to return to tradition by making such a sacrifice fueled by the love he had for her. The story of the Dillingham’s ended ironically when their gifts canceled each other’s out but the gift of love that was shown by embracing the tradition that comes with true “Christmas spirit” will last a lifetime.