The Irony In ‘the Gift Of The Magi” Essay
William Sydney Porter (using the pen name “O. Henry”) wrote a short story concerning the love two people have for each other at Christmas time. Published in 1905, it has endured through the years as an example of writing in irony and using the “twist ending” still popular in literature and film today. It may be supposed “The Gift of the Magi” is taught in every high school in the country for a number of reasons.
In order to analyze the story of Della and Jim, it is necessary to understand the three types of irony. Watt (2015) defines irony as indicating a contradiction between what is expected and what actually happens. He states the three types are verbal, situational, and dramatic.
Verbal irony is shown when someone says something different from their actual meaning. This can include sarcasm, but not always. Verbal irony does not always intend to insult like sarcasm does. Verbal irony is the only type used intentionally by the speaker. This can happen when the speaker either overstates or understates the character of something.
Situational irony is an unexpected outcome from what earlier events lead to believe would happen. Different from simple bad luck, the ending is not what the audience has been lead to believe would happen.
Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows something the characters do not. This adds either humor or suspense. The three stages of dramatic irony include the audience learning of something the character does not know (installation), using the information to make the audience curious (exploitation), and the character finally discovers what has been happening (resolution).
A brief synopsis of “The Gift of the Magi” is based on the story of a young married couple struggling economically. While very much in love, they have only two things of worth: Jim has a pocket watch of which is he very proud, and Della has a beautiful head of shining hair. Neither have the resources to buy the other a Christmas gift, so they each sacrifice their most prized possession to buy the other a gift. But not just any gift; a gift that will compliment the other’s wonderful belonging. Jim sold his watch to buy combs for his wife’s hair, and Della sold her hair to buy a watch fob for Jim’s watch. The ending is now referred to as a plot twist and is effective because the audience is not aware of what is going to happen. If the story was presented in a way that the audience knew Della’s intentions and then Jim’s before the ending of the story, there would not be the plot twist and situational irony. However, the way O. Henry developed the story provided for the “surprise ending”.
Aside from major aspects of irony in the short story, there are additional touches in the details. For instance, in a period of their lives where every penny counts, Jim still maintains possession of a watch that might have been surrendered for rent or food money. Della’s hair is off sufficient length that it might have been cut long ago to help with the finances. Huson (2015) suggest O. Henry used this story to focus on traditional values and punish the characters for their impracticality. In addition, the Magi gave gifts to Baby Jesus for which an infant had no need; incense and spices. Although on second thought, the gold probably came in handy for Mary and Joseph.
There is even irony in the name of the story. The relation of the title “The Gift of the Magi” is not apparent until the very end of the tale, and after a moment of reflection.
Huson, Julie Alice. 'What Irony Is Used In "The Gift Of The Magi"?'. Education - Seattle PI. N.p., 2015.
Web. 24 Jan. 2015.
Marinaro, Francesca. 'The Gift Of The Magi By O. Henry: Summary, Theme & Analysis | Education
Portal'. Education Portal. N.p., 2015. Web. 24 Jan. 2015.
Watt, A. 'Types Of Irony'. Typesofirony.com. N.p., 2015. Web. 24 Jan. 2015.
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