The Use of Irony in The Gift of Magi by O. Henry Essay Example

Published: 2022-12-08
The Use of Irony in The Gift of Magi by O. Henry Essay Example
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  American literature
Pages: 4
Wordcount: 896 words
8 min read

"The Gift of Magi" by O. Henry is a story of a couple, James and Della Dillingham, whose strive to rise above their financial constraints to gift each other. The author's portrayal of their commitment to finding and purchasing the best gift for one another despite limited funds is essential to the build-up of the text's irony. The actions of the husband and wife are proof of the extent that they are willing to go to ensure the happiness of their beloved. Despite their lack of finances, each of them is resourceful as they both put the interest of the other ahead of their own. The plot's ending culminates in irony upon realization of the sacrifice each had made for the other.

Trust banner

Is your time best spent reading someone else’s essay? Get a 100% original essay FROM A CERTIFIED WRITER!

The irony is a literary device used by writers to show inconsistencies between how things appear expectations and reality. Authors use irony to cast characters in a specific mold only to present an unexpected turn or events or actions from them. While it has varying effects, it is applicable in developing a deeper meaning to a story by provoking the readers' thoughts. As readers follow a plot, they develop a perception that guides anticipation of characters' words or behaviors. However, the presence of irony makes a story more interesting as it creates a discrepancy between the perceived ideas and the truth of what happens at the end of the story. Thus, by concluding a tale with an unexpected ending, a writer achieves situational irony.

For several months, Della struggled to save money. The primary goal of her initiative was to put aside a sufficient amount to buy a present for her husband, Jim. She had spent a lot of time fantasizing about getting him something nice. Della hoped to purchase a rare and sterling gift that was worthy of Jim's honor (Henry: The Gift of the Magi 3). As part of the strategy to achieve her savings goal, she had persistently haggled with the grocer, the vegetable man, and the butcher. At the end of it, she had managed to save only one dollar and eighty-seven cents by Christmas Eve (Henry 2). The little amount saved is ironical given her dedication to put aside more and desire to buy a good present. Besides, having saved for months, it is ironical that she barely has any money.

At a deeper level, the moral of the story revolves around sacrifice and giving to make others happy. The author uses the love and affection that Jim and Della have for each other to put across a valuable lesson. Thus, by sharing with others out of love, one can achieve more happiness. While the two characters' value each other, it is ironical that they each have a material possession that they treasure almost as much as each other. The James Dillingham Youngs took mighty pride in only two items. Jim treasured a gold watch that had belonged to his father and his grandfather. Della, on the other hand, took immense pride in her beautiful hair (Henry 3). The irony in their love for these two items is due to the perception that they are each other's most treasured element on earth.

Left with no other choice, Della decides to sell her locks. She intends to use the money for buying Jim's present. The author describes her hair as one that would outshine the Queen of Sheba's jewels and gifts. It is a mass that reached below her knee. Besides, it rippled and shone like a cascade of brown waters. She even shed a tear or two at the thought of selling it. However, once traded to the shop that advertised hair goods of all kinds, she got excited and went to various stores looking for a gift, a fob chain for Jim's watch (Henry: The Gift of the Magi 1). Thus, it is ironical how losing her hair is a source of pain and joy at the same time.

Jim's package for his wife contains a set of side and back combs that she adored. The combs were of pure tortoise shells and jeweled rims. She would have looked elegant wearing the different shades of the expensive combs in her vanished hair. Upon receiving her gift, Della hands Jim the chain. He admits to having sold his expensive watch to get money for the combs (Henry 7). Situational irony is evident as Della has a thoughtful gift she had desired for a long time yet she cannot make use of it. Similarly, Jim gets a chain for a watch that is no longer in his possession. Thus, the author's use of twisted ending evokes thought on the underlying significance of the actions and sacrifice that the two characters make.


Overall, the use of irony brings out distinct variations in what one expects to happen from what eventually takes place. The story of Jim and Della in the text utilizes the stylistic device to teach about the element of self-sacrifice and giving. By incorporating an unexpected ending using situational irony, the author seeks to engage readers to develop or infer a more profound meaning from the plot twist. Thus, the writer uses irony to show the level of commitment and happiness associated with giving out of love.

Works Cited

Henry, Oh. The Gift of the Magi. Pioneer Drama Service, Inc., 1977.

Henry, Ossian. The Gift of the Magi and Other Short Stories. Courier Corporation, 2012.

Cite this page

The Use of Irony in The Gift of Magi by O. Henry Essay Example. (2022, Dec 08). Retrieved from

Request Removal

If you are the original author of this essay and no longer wish to have it published on the SpeedyPaper website, please click below to request its removal:

Liked this essay sample but need an original one?

Hire a professional with VAST experience!

24/7 online support

NO plagiarism