Simplicity & Realism in O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi”

William Sydney Porter by Doubleday, 1912, NYPL Digital Gallery, W.M. Vanderweyde, PD-1923

Of the many excellent elements in the short stories of O. Henry, I have most noticed simplicity and realism, these two things actually serving as one. “The Gift of the Magi” aptly exemplifies this. By realism, I mean the factual events that happen around us every day, not sugared or spiced or romanticized.

O. Henry did not have to pull some features from everyday life and inject them into a fantasy world to get the themes of his stories across. Instead, he took the simple people, the real people, the simple happenings, the real happenings, and related them to us, his readers, in such a way that we remember them. We remember—and, what is even rarer, recall them—well.

For instance, in “The Gift of the Magi,” we read about a husband and wife, poor but hopeful, at Christmastime. They love each other so much that they willingly sacrifice what they hold must dear of their few worldly possessions. I doubt the editor of any news source would find it worth his time to put this couple’s story on his front page. Yet “The Gift of the Magi” is special to readers, because we find in it hope, unselfishness, and true love.

If I can study O. Henry’s works and discover how to present the simple and the realistic as he did, I will find myself well on my way as a writer.


Henry, O. “The Gift of the Magi.” In The Gift of the Magi and Other Short Stories, edited by Shane Weller, 1-5. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1992.


One thought on “Simplicity & Realism in O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi”

  1. Pingback: 2 Weeks of Brief Literary Thoughts – The Flummoxed

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