The Gift of the Magi

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The Gift of the Magi Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of O. Henry

William Sydney Porter spent his childhood in North Carolina, where he read voraciously and attended his aunt’s elementary school. His uncle trained him to become a pharmacist at nineteen. At twenty, he moved to Texas to work on a sheep ranch. Soon afterwards, he worked a number of jobs as a bank teller, draftsman, and journalist, all while writing on the side. Sometime after his first marriage to Athol Estes, he began writing for the Houston Post, but he was arrested soon afterwards for embezzling funds at his previous bank position. He escaped to Honduras, but returned to the United States when he learned that Estes died from tuberculosis. Porter spent the next three years in prison, where he wrote and published under various pseudonyms, the most popular one being “O. Henry.” After his release from prison, Porter moved to New York City where he wrote most of his short stories. He died in 1910, at age forty-seven, from complications that likely arose from his drinking.
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Historical Context of The Gift of the Magi

The setting of “Gift of the Magi” likely reflects O. Henry’s location at the time in New York City. In 1906, New York was still a shipping city, bustling and packed. There were no skyscrapers yet, and South Street was still an important commercial district rather than the tourist attraction it would become by the end of the century. The Williamsburg Bridge had been built just three years earlier, and the Manhattan Bridge wouldn’t be built for another three years. O. Henry occupied the city at this point during its transition, and he was fascinated by all the people who inhabited New York, leading him to title his second collection of stories The Four Million.

Other Books Related to The Gift of the Magi

O. Henry was a prolific short story writer who specialized in twist endings—much like the popular 19th century French writer, Guy de Maupassant. The two writers have been compared because of their use of situational irony, but O. Henry’s work tends to be more playful, often making use of a witty narrator. This humorous tone shows the influence of fellow American writer Mark Twain, whose writing was also considered realistic, witty, and often irreverent.
Key Facts about The Gift of the Magi
  • Full Title: The Gift of the Magi
  • When Written: 1905
  • Where Written: New York City
  • When Published: 1905
  • Literary Period: Realism
  • Genre: Short story/Parable
  • Setting: A city, probably around the beginning of the 20th century
  • Climax: Della opens her present and finds the combs
  • Antagonist: Poverty
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient, with a focus on Della’s perspective

Extra Credit for The Gift of the Magi

“Grift of the Magi.” “Gift of the Magi” has inspired numerous pop culture references, including a Sesame Street holiday special and a Simpsons episode called “Grift of the Magi.”

Banana Republic. O. Henry coined the term “banana republic” to describe a small tropical nation with a narrowly agrarian economy when he fled to Honduras to escape trial in 1886.