The Gift of the Magi
by O. Henry
Analysis: Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis
Christopher Booker is a scholar who wrote that every story falls into one of seven basic plot structures: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, the Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Shmoop explores which of these structures fits this story like Cinderella’s slipper.
Plot Type : The Quest
Della wants to buy Jim a suitably amazing Christmas gift, but doesn't have any money.
We learn right away what Della's "quest" is: to find the perfect present for Jim. We also know the problem she faces: she doesn't have the money to buy the perfect present. Della is frustrated by this and cries. Afterwards, she looks at her hair, and rushes out of the flat. We get the sense she has made a fateful decision.
Della sells her hair, then it's shopping time.
Della remedies her initial problem with an epic sacrifice, and continues on her quest for the perfect present. It takes two hours to find it.
Arrival and Frustration
Della finds the present, but what is she to do about her hair?
Della finds Jim the watch chain and gets it. Mission accomplished. Only now there's a new frustration: she realizes that Jim may be more unhappy about her missing hair than pleased by his present. She tries to make the best of her shortened hair with the help of a curling iron, though she now looks like a schoolboy. She prepares for Jim's return.
The Final Ordeals
Jim is shocked by Della's new look. The great joys and agonies of the combs.
Jim arrives and puts Della through a scare – he's shocked by her hair, and she doesn't know what to make of his reaction. He recovers and tells her to open his gift. She does, and finds the combs. Della is both moved with joy and racked by sadness since her hair is gone. It remains now to give Jim his present. Will he like it?
Jim and Della's gifts turn out to be the wisest gifts of all…even if they're useless.
Jim at last receives his gift from Della, only to tell her that he has sold the watch for which it was intended. The action of the story stops there, and we might feel a bit ambivalent (that is, we have two different reactions): what's happened is touching, but was Della's now-useless present actually a success? Was her quest successful? Luckily, the narrator is there to take away those nasty second thoughts and assure us that yes, it was, since her gift (along with Jim's) was the wisest of all.