The Gift of the Magi
The Gift of the Magi

The Gift of the Magi - Study Guide

Which is the better gift, the comb or the pocket watch? O. Henry's short story, The Gift of the Magi (1905) offers a memorable ironic twist. We hope our study guide is particularly useful for teachers and students to study irony and appreciate O. Henry's clever literary devices.

Read the story: The Gift of the Magi, Character Analysis & Summary, Genre & Literary Devices, Etymology of "Magi", Quotes, Discussion Questions, Paired Readings, Useful Links, and Notes/Teacher Comments

Character Analysis & Summary

The Gift of the Magi: combing hair
Della combing her hair

Genre & Literary Devices


Literary Devices

Biblical References

Primary Themes

Comparative Themes

The Gift of the Magi: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Three Kings
The Three Kings

Etymology of "Magi"

Magi is Latin, meaning skilled magicians, astrologers. Singular is "magus" which is the Persian root from Indo-Iranian "magh" which means powerful and rich, expressing ability. The Latins called them wise men, the Persians called them Magi.
Also from the Greek "magos" (5th century BCE) which refers to the Persian priestly and learned class as portrayed in The Bible in The Gospel of Matthew

According to Ludolph of Saxony (died 1378):
"The three pagan kings were called Magi not because they were magicians but because of the great science of astrology which was theirs. Those whom the Hebrews called scribes and the Greeks, philosophers, and the Latins, wise men, the Persians called Magi. And the reason that they were called kings is that in those days it was the custom for the philosophers and wise men to be rulers."

The Gift of the Magi: pocketwatch
Pocketwatch, 1859


Explain what the following quotes mean and how they relate to the story:

The Gift of the Magi: combs
Tortoise-shell comb

Discussion Questions

Giovanni Boccaccio, Federigo's Falcon
Federigo's Falcon

Paired Reading Suggestions

Compare The Gift of the Magi to other stories of the sub-genre "dramatic irony":

When comparing uses of dramatic irony, discuss plot, themes, the role of irony in engaging the reader, and contrasts that make each story unique.

Teachers: Challenge students to identify other stories they've read which contain dramatic irony, perhaps assign them to compose their own, to more fully appreciate the richness and appeal of irony in storytelling. It's both a pleasure for the audience and the writer!

The Gift of the Magi Study Guide: O. Henry
O. Henry

Teacher Resources
A Teacher's Work Is Never Done

Notes/Teacher Comments

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