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The Gift of the Magi Teacher Guide

Every year, before the holiday break, I read the short story "The Gift of the Magi" with my class. The story reinforces the idea that material possessions are not important, rather, the thought and the love behind the gift is the true meaning of the holiday season. The students always appreciate reviewing such a strong theme during a season of love and sharing.

Student Activities for The Gift of the Magi

Essential Questions for "The Gift of the Magi"

  1. What is the real meaning of the holiday season?
  2. How can you show someone love?
  3. Are material possessions important in a relationship?
  4. What does the word “gift” mean? Why are gifts important?
  5. What role does irony place in this story?

Background on Author

O. Henry is the pen name of the American writer William Sydney Porter (1862-1010). Porter pursued a number of professions before becoming a serious writer in his thirties. He made use of multiple pseudonyms, but is best known by the O. Henry name. Porter enjoyed observing the quirks and idiosyncrasies of ordinary people, particularly those that he encountered during his time in New York City. His stories tend to focus on “the little man” - average people with simple, yet meaningful trials. Porter is known for his wit, heart, and irony. Many of his stories conclude with a surprise ironic twist. “The Gift of the Magi” is no exception. His most popular story, “Magi” is particularly appealing to readers since its ending twist emphasizes the enduring value of selfless love, simultaneously surprising and inspiring the reader.

A Quick Synopsis of "The Gift of the Magi"

"The Gift of the Magi" is a touching Christmas tale about how far a husband and wife will go for one another, despite their poverty. To show their true love and devotion to one another, right before Christmas, Della and her husband Jim set out separately to purchase Christmas presents. Having less than three dollars in each of their pockets, they each make a great sacrifice in order to purchase the perfect gift for one another. Della sells her beautiful hair for $20 in order to buy her husband a platinum chain for his watch. Meanwhile, Jim sells his heirloom watch to buy a beautiful set of combs for Della to put in her hair.

When they each open their presents, the irony is intense. They are both unable to use their gifts, but realize their mutual devotion, and that the most precious things they have are each other.

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