A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Probably O. Henry’s best known work, this perennial holiday story doesn’t contain any cute little reindeer or snow people. It’s about a young couple who are trying to find the perfect Christmas gift for each other with a very limited amount of money. Della has long hair which she has cut and sold to buy her husband Jim a chain for his pocket watch. He in turn sells his watch to buy her a set of hair combs. The end is ironic, wistful and a cynic would say the whole thing was all for nothing. But that would be missing the point of the story, which is to give up something of value to make another person happy. That true love often requires sacrifice.
O.Henry’s stories are known for their unexpected little twists at the end and for having regular people in everyday situations. Their inner monologues are rich and sprinkled with humor, and this one is no exception.
Upon reading the story again, I was struck by two things; that the narration is from the woman’s point of view and what happens, or rather doesn’t happen, after they find out what the other has done. They don’t argue or hurl accusations at each other or become dramatic at what they’ve given up. Instead they absorb their surprise and what the surprises mean then move on to preparing their supper and enjoying it. That stability and maturity was refreshing to someone who grew up in a dysfunctional family. That calm acceptance was as meaningful as the sacrifices to me in showing the depth of their relationship.
Though written in the author’s favorite bar in New York City in 1905, the story has held up well and still feels quite modern. It’s been made into countless films, from silent ones soon after publication, to world wide cinema and even several cartoon versions. Some people might say it’s too sentimental, but I say ‘Bah humbug!’ to them.
If you haven’t read the story or would like to read it again, here’s a link: Gift of the Magi .