Story in a Nutshell

In this story, O. Henry narrates the tale of two lovers who sacrifice their most precious belongings for love. Della sells off her hair to buy a watch chain for Jim, who has actually sold off his watch to buy an ornament for Della’s hair. The depth of the couple’s feelings is revealed through their sacrifices.

Characters

  1. Jim Young– A poor but hardworking young man who is married to Della and has a precious inherited gold pocket watch that he sells off to buy a Christmas gift for Della
  2. Della Young– Jim’s wife, a young woman with beautiful hair who cuts it off and sells it to purchase a Christmas present for her husband

Della sells off her Hair

On Christmas Eve, Della Young discovered that she only had a dollar and eighty-seven cents to buy a Christmas present for her husband Jim. Living a life of utmost poverty, she had carefully saved this little amount through bargaining with shopkeepers. But the money was barely enough to get a proper gift for Jim and this greatly pained Della. However, on looking at a narrow mirror in their poverty-stricken flat, Della was struck with an idea.

The Young family had two possessions that they were very proud of- the gold watch that Jim had inherited from his father and grandfather, and Dell’s beautiful hair. And to be able to buy a gift fitting of her amazing husband, Della decided to sell her hair. So, she sold off her luxurious hair at a local hair salon for twenty dollars.

She spent the following two hours searching for a perfect present for Jim, finally deciding upon a platinum watch chain that would be ideal for Jim’s precious gold watch, which he then used with an old leather strap.

Jim Comes Home

Della tried to fix the mess of her new shortly cropped hair when she got home by using her curling irons. She then made coffee and quail chops, waiting for her husband to come home. But Jim was late, and this made Della anxious about his reaction to her new hair.

When Jim finally came home, he looked too serious and ragged for his young age of twenty-one. He became absolutely still when he saw Della’s new state, but the expression in his eyes was not anger or shock or disapproval or any of the emotions Della had been prepared to see. Instead, the expression on his face was unreadable and peculiar.

Della revealed to him that she had cut off and sold her hair in order to buy him a Christmas gift, and he should not mind it because her hair grew out really fast. Jim was still stunned and brought out a package from his coat, and said that it would explain his reaction to her hair.

The Couple’s Christmas Gifts

On opening the package, Della is first overjoyed and then horrified to find a beautiful and expensive ornamental comb that she had been eyeing for a while. However, with her hair cut short, she had no use for it anymore. She tried to console herself and Jim by saying that her hair grew fast, and then happily presented him with the watch chain she had purchased as his gift. Jim was even more shocked by his wife’s present, and confessed that he had actually sold his gold watch to buy the ornamental comb for Della.

O. Henry compares the sacrifices that the two characters made to the gifts of the wise Magi, because in the sacrificial nature of their love and gifts, they become just as wise as the mythical Magi.

Conclusion

The biblical Magi are the wise men who bring gifts to Jesus upon his birth. O. Henry showcases the depth of Jim and Della’s love through their sacrifices in his short story, likening the Christmas gifts that the couple purchases to the wise gifts of the wise Magi. Thus, the author seeks to make us understand the wisdom that lies in love and sacrifice, no matter how silly they might seem at first glance.