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What are the themes in "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry?

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Quick Answer

Themes in O. Henry's short story "The Gift of the Magi" include value, sacrifice and love. The parable teaches its moral lessons about gift-giving against the backdrop of extreme poverty. The Christmas-time setting provides comparison to the wise men's gifts to Jesus.

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Full Answer

One theme concerns the subjectivity of value, especially the value of inner, emotional richness in contrast with exterior, material wealth. Comparisons of the couple's prized possessions to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba's riches illustrate that value is relative. The primacy of inner, moral value of character over material wealth is repeated throughout the narration.

Another theme relates to sacrifice. In the story, Jim and Della sacrifice their greatest personal treasures out of devotion to the other. In sacrificing possessions, they end up possessing an even greater, irreplaceable treasure: affirmation of their love.

The theme of love pervades the story. The couple sacrifices on behalf of love, they give and receive out of love, they value their love unselfishly, and their generosity in loving each other leaves their relationship and affection even greater. Love is demonstrated to have the highest value, and love is the most prized possession.

The story's likening of the couple to the magi, claiming they are the wisest gift givers of all, emphasizes the value of a gift lies not in its monetary price but in the intent, sacrifice and generosity behind the giving.

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