The Gift of the Magi.
The Gift of the Magi & other stories
The Magi were the three wise men who brought gifts to Jesus Christ when he was born. Magi is the plural of magus, a magus is a wise man or magician. The words magic and magician are derived from magus.

If you have worked with the first four lessons in ELLSA, review the elements used in The Gift of the Magi.


How many characters are in the story? Can you name them?

Which character speaks the following lines and what do these lines tell us about their character?

  1. And now I think we should have our dinner.
  2. Will you buy my hair?
  3. I sold the watch to get the money to buy the combs.
  4. You've cut off your hair?
  5. Isn't it perfect, Jim?
  6. What could I do with a dollar and eighty-seven cents?
  7. Don't you like me now?
  8. You won't care, will you?

Re-tell the story by putting the lines in order.


What is the setting of the story?

  • Think about time and place.

What is the climax of the story?

What is the resolution of the story?


What are some of the possible conflicts that could arise in a story like this? Think back to the anxieties of Jim and Della (the answers to the character exercise could help you here).

Write a short dialog based on one of the possible conflicts that could arise. You might like to develop this into a short dramatic performance for the rest of the class.

This lesson introduces the final element of the short story that will be examined in the first section of ELLSA: the theme of the story.

Look up the word theme in a dictionary or a thesaurus. (Try using the dictionary or thesaurus in the Tools menu, in the word processing program on your computer).

You will probably find most of the following synonyms for theme:
  • topic
  • idea
  • subject
  • issue
  • point
The last word, point, is a good way to think about theme. The theme is the point, or reason, for writing a story. Some people think of theme as the message or meaning.
Major and Minor Themes
A story usually has one main theme and several minor themes.

Below is a list of some common general themes in literature around the world. Think of some stories or movies that you are familiar with and try to identify some of the themes in them.

Eight of these themes can be found in The Gift of the Magi. Explain how O.Henry uses each theme you identify and then check the key to see if you have found all the themes in the story.

  • Art
  • Beauty
  • Bravery
  • Death
  • Fear
  • Family
  • Faith
  • Freedom
  • The Future
  • Giving
  • Greed
  • Growing Up
  • Heroism
  • Honesty
  • Hope
  • Identity
  • Independence
  • Justice
  • Knowledge
  • Law
  • Loss
  • Love
  • Money
  • Nature
  • Peace
  • Poverty
  • Pride
  • Sacrifice
  • Religion
  • Sacrifice
  • Truth
  • War
  • Wisdom
Ranking: Major and Minor Themes
Rank the eight themes identified above from 1-8 with 1 being the main theme in the story and 8 the least important minor theme.

There are many possibilities, depending on your personal beliefs.

Compare and contrast your choice for main theme with other people.

••• contents ••• Title Page ••• synopsis ••• pre-story ••• in-story ••• exercises ••• follow-up •••