Quote of the Day: O. Henry & the the Joy of Giving

“When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason.”

The Gift of the Magi ,O Henry

Origins of the Quote

The quote is about the young Della who is vexed about how she will give an appropriate gift to her husband, Jim. She holds Jim in very high regard and doesn’t want to disappoint him. It is about how far would a person go for their love. But what sets the story apart is the innocence that it portrays.

Both the protagonists agonize over this because they need to arrange for the money for the gifts. And in the absence of the source of funds, they each make personal sacrifices. Eventually, the gifts cancel out each other in an ironic twist. But what remains is the sacrifice and the thought that each spent – and that is the real gift.

Also the story ends with the narrator comparing these sacrificial gifts of love with those of the biblical Magi. It was published in 1905 by McClure, Phillips, and Company.

The Person Behind the Words

O. Henry is an author whose tales romanticized the commonplace, particularly the life of ordinary people in New York City. Often his stories are characterized by the effect of coincidence on a character through humour. They carry a grim or ironic tone and often had surprise endings. This device became identified with his name and cost him critical favour when its vogue had passed.

Porter attended a school taught by his aunt, then clerked in his uncle’s drugstore. An all-American upbringing led him to Texas, where he worked on a ranch (1882), in a general land office, and later as a teller in the First National Bank in Austin. Around this time, he began writing sketches also when he married Athol Estes in 1887.

In 1894 he started a humorous weekly, The Rolling Stone. The venture failed, and Porter joined the Houston Post as a reporter, columnist, and occasional cartoonist.

In February 1896 he was indicted for embezzlement of bank funds. This marked a change in his life and circumstances. He fled to Honduras but news of his wife’s fatal illness brought him back to Austin. The authorities kindly did not press his case until after her death.

When convicted, Porter received the lightest sentence possible, he entered the penitentiary at Columbus, Ohio(1898). As a night druggist in the prison hospital, he engaged in writing to earn money to support his daughter Margaret. The stories of adventure in the southwest U.S. and Central America were immediately popular with magazine readers, and when he emerged from prison W.S. Porter had become O. Henry.

Some Final Thoughts

There is a timeless appeal in O. Henry’s stories. At the heart of it is a simple thought and idea which he nurtures. In support of the statement is the case. Almost 95 years later after the story was published in New York, all the way in India it was adapted into a timeless music video in India. It was the 90’s and music videos were the rage. It was Pankaj Udhas’s soulful ‘Aur Ahista’ featuring a young Sameera Reddy.

The story was so simple – boy and girl love each other and they want to do the best for each other. In the event of not depending on sources outside – they each sacrifice what they could and what they had. Strangely 0 it was a time of innocence and it resonated with a  generation of youngsters who believed in young love, dreams, and sacrifices.

A time when cynicism wasn’t synonymous with relations and they weren’t so easily dispensible. As rare and precious as real emotions. A story of how some things are truly priceless, and connecting people with the truth of charity, that is thought. It is thought that really outweighs the price, not the other way around.


Check out our Quote of the Day archive where we bring you quotes hand picked by me, Divvya Nirula. Sharing the stories, people, moments behind the inspiration and thought provoking words.