Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"The Gift of the Magi" by O Henry

"The Gift of the Magi" by O Henry (1906-3 pages, read via

O. Henry (pen name for William Porter-1862 to 1910-North Carolina, USA) is best known as the author of some 300 short stories.   "The Gift of the Magi" may well be the most assigned to be read short story in American schools.     O Henry led a trouble life.    Wikipedia has a good article about him.   One interesting trivial pursuit item I learned from it was that O Henry created the term "banana republic" to describe the country of Honduras (where he was hiding from charges of bank embezzlement-for which offense he did serve five years in prison) and it has now entered the common language to mean a small unstable tropical country in Latin America.   

"The Gift of the Magi" turns on a twist or surprise ending as it seems do many of his short stories.    The story opens in the early 1900s at the small very modest apartment of a young married couple, Jim and Della.   The setting is a large American city.   O Henry does a very good job of making us able to visualize the apartment.   We can see the Jim and Della very much love each other.   Christmas is coming and each one of them very much wants to give the other a wonderful present.    Anyone who has ever been short of money at Christmas with loved ones for whom you cannot really buy  the gifts you long to will directly relate to this story.  I do not want to spoil this story for those who may have not yet read it.   The style is somehow relaxing.   Perhaps his stories do depend to much on the surprise ending and cynics would say they have a schmaltzy feel but this one was fun to read and the time invested was worth it for sure.    

Here is a sample of his prose style:

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.
I am glad I read this story and think most readers of my blog would find it a pleasant easy read.  


Rebecca Reid said...

I love this story. I don't think I studied in school, though. I think O.Henry stories are a nice light read if you are ever looking for a good short story.

Word Lily said...

I *loved* O Henry's stories in high school. This one I've encountered over and over, and it's stayed with me — I think it always will.

Booksnyc said...

I love this story- the message of sacrificing for someone you love is so powerful!