Theme and narrative elements of a short story

Topics: Christmas, Fiction, O. Henry Pages: 5 (772 words) Published: June 5, 2014

Kim Johnson
Eng 125: Introduction to Literature
Victoria Schmidt
May 26, 2014

William Sidney Porter (1862-1910) wrote under the pseudonym O. Henry. “The Gift of the Magi” written in 1906 has become a beloved Christmas tale. It has been adapted into musicals and operas. It is a story about a man and a woman who are so much in love that they are willing to sacrifice their most beloved possessions in order to give their true love a Christmas gift. The overall theme of the narrative is sacrifice and love. I will use symbolism and setting as the literary elements to describe how love and sacrifice is the theme of this short story. The theme of “The Gift of the Magi” is sacrifice and love. “The theme in a piece of literature is not a summary of the plot; it is not a statement about a dominant impression or mood; it is not a moral or proposition; it is not the attitude of the writer. Theme is more complex than any of these elements of fiction; it can’t be defined in a single word. Theme in fiction is associated with something abstract, something broad: The theme in a story is associated with an idea that lies behind the story. Every story narrows a broad underlying idea, shapes it in a unique way, and makes the underlying idea concrete. That’s how theme is created. In other words, the theme in a story is a representation of the idea behind the story. “(Clugston, 2010 p7.1) The setting of the narrative is poverty. The setting is described as “the time or place in which fictional events occur. It puts boundaries around the action and defines the environment in which conflict can be witnessed and character development observed. Setting may also have a social dimension in which particular local customs, dress, or speech provide a framework for understanding the characters and their interactions.” (Clugston, 2010 p.6.4) Della counting her pennies visualizes the depth of the couple’s impoverishment. The description of the couch shows that there was not much money between Della and her husband. O Henry writes, “There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl.”(Clugston, 2010 p.5.4) The couple was so broke they could not even afford his middle name anymore. Christmas tales abound with imagery of poverty. Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is an example of how poverty is used to show the virtues of giving during the Christmas season.” Poverty is the starting point for almost every good Christmas story. There is something about Christmas that renders poverty almost picturesque, a time when poverty becomes the pathway to redemption, both for those who suffer and those who come to their aid.”(Laucius 2010) Poverty is the setting that enables O Henry to convey the depth of the sacrifice and love it takes to give a Christmas gift when you basically have nothing.

The symbol according to Clugston,”is something that has a literal identity, but also stands for something else, something that is widely understood and has been developed over a long period of time, or by common agreement.”(2010 p7.6) The symbolism in “The Gift of the Magi’ is the act of giving gifts. By giving gifts Jim and Della are symbolically representing “The Three Wise Men.” “The Biblical story of the wise men, or the Magi, coming from the East as recorded in the Gospel of Mathew is taught in every Sunday School in the West. Few are the Christmas cards, ornaments, Christmas carols or tree decorations that do not refer to the Magi”(Daoud 2000) The Biblical story of “The Three Wise Men” is a story of sacrifice and love. The priests traveled far to bestow gifts on the baby born in the manger. The priests gave gold and incense to the child. By symbolizing Jim and Della as the “The Three Wise Men” O Henry correlates their sacrifice with the meaning of Christmas.

In the name of love, Della sacrifices her beloved hair in order to be able to...

References: Clugston, R. W. (2010). Journey into literature. San Diego, California: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.
Daoud Kuttab(2000, Dec 22). 'Magi ' on A biblical journey pray for peace on earth. Middle East News OnlineRetrieved from
Laucius, J. (2010, Dec 17). The poor are with us always. Postmedia News Retrieved from
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