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The Gift of the Magi

By O. Henry (William Sydney Porter) Setting A drab flat in a gray city on Christmas Eve The narrator calls our attention almost immediately to the two most important details of the story's setting: it takes place on a Christmas Eve, and its two main characters live in a very unassuming flat. The drabness of the physical setting in which Jim and Della live creates a contrast with the warmth and richness of their love for each other. The fact that everything outside the flat is "grey" Della watches a "gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard" develops the contrast even further. Inside, we get the sense, Jim and Della's affection creates a welcoming love nest, in spite of the flat's humble nature. Outside, it's a cold, gray world, and one that is about as uncaring as Madame Sofronie.

Characters 1. Della is the loving, warm, selfless, and occasionally hysterical heroine of the story. Della's financially poor. She spends all of her days in a cramped flat, as "mistress of the home". In other words, she's a homemaker. 2. Jim is Della's husband. Jim's job is not so great. He's the only breadwinner for the Dillingham Young family (that is, him and Della), and it seems he works long hours, but his salary is low. And it recently went from bad to worse: whereas he used to make $30 a week he's now down to just $20. He and Della are struggling just to pay the expenses of their small flat. So if Jim happens to seem a little tired, serious, overworked, and perhaps a tad underweight, there's a good reason for it. 3. Madame Sofronie is the owner of a hair shop, which, we are told, sells "hair goods of all kinds".

Plot The story opens with $1.87. That's all Della Dillingham Young has to buy a present for her beloved husband, Jim. And the next day is Christmas. Faced with such a situation, Della promptly bursts into tears on the couch, which gives the narrator the opportunity to tell us a bit more about the situation of Jim and Della. The short of it is they live in a shabby flat and they're poor. But they love each other.


Once Della's recovered herself, she goes to a mirror to let down her hair and examine it. Della's beautiful, brown, knee-length hair is one of the two great treasures of the poor couple. The other is Jim's gold watch. Her hair examined, Della puts it back up, sheds a tear, and bundles up to head out into the cold. She leaves the flat and walks to Madame Sofronie's hair goods shop, where she sells her hair for twenty bucks. Now she has $21.87 cents. With her new funds, Della is able to find Jim the perfect present: an elegant platinum watch chain for his watch. It's $21, and she buys it. Excited by her gift, Della returns home and tries to make her now-short hair presentable (with a curling iron). She's not convinced Jim will approve, but she did what she had to do to get him a good present. When she finishes with her hair, she gets to work preparing coffee and dinner. Jim arrives at 7pm to find Della waiting by the door and stares fixedly at her, not able to understand that Della's hair is gone. Della can't understand quite what his reaction means. After a little while, Jim snaps out of it and gives Della her present, explaining that his reaction will make sense when she opens it. Della opens it and cries out in joy, only to burst into tears immediately afterward. Jim has given her the set of fancy combs she's wanted for ages, only now she has no hair for them. Jim nurses Della out of her sobs. Once she's recovered she gives Jim his present, holding out the watch chain. Jim smiles, falling back on the couch. He sold his watch to buy Della's combs, he explains. He recommends they put away their presents and have dinner. As they do so, the narrator brings the story to a close by pronouncing that Della and Jim are the wisest of everyone who gives gifts. They are the magi.

Conflict Della sells her hair. The conflict is supposedly the moment where the "problem" in the story appears, but this story began right from the first with a problem. In "Gift of the Magi" the point of conflict actually solves the first problem and replaces it with a second. By selling her hair, Della gets the money to buy Jim a great present, eliminating the first problem through decisive action. Shortly thereafter she finds the perfect present, so neither the money nor the present is the issue any longer. But now there's a new problem: will Jim be pleased by Della's action and appreciate her gift, or will he be angry with her for parting with the hair he loved so much?

Third Person (Omniscient)


Point of View

Technically, the story seems to be third person limited omniscient. It's told in the third-person, and only follows Della. We don't see what Jim is doing during the story, and once he does show up, he remains closed to us: we don't know what his reaction to Della's hair is any more than Della does. We can't be entirely satisfied with this classification, though, because the narrator has such an independent personality and seems to know a lot more than Della does at times. He's "The Storyteller." It's as if he sees everything, but usually limits himself to Della's point of view by choice for storytelling purposes. If the narrator described everything that were going on, he'd ruin the surprise ending. We know the narrator is really more like an omniscient being, though, because every so often he "zooms out" to make much more general pronouncements that fly way above the action of the story's characters. The most obvious of these is at the end, when he mentions "the magi" (to which Della and Jim are totally oblivious). But there are other places too, like when he zooms out from the weeping Della to describe the flat. There are also all those moments when he makes a more universal remark about "the way life is," such as, "Life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating".

Themes LOVE "Gift of the Magi" is the story of a poor, young couple whose love for each other is the most important thing in their lives. Such is their love that they're led to sacrifice their most valuable possessions to find Christmas gifts for each other. The warm home they make together contrasts with the drabness of their poverty and the dreary world outside. Their love seems to know no bounds, though Della (the wife) worries about how her sacrifice will affect her husband because of how it affects her looks. If ever there were a story with the message that all you need to be happy is love, this is it. SACRIFICE The two main characters in "Gift of the Magi" are a husband and wife who give up their most precious possessions to be able to afford gifts for each other on Christmas Eve. The story seems to be all about sacrifice. We watch Della go through the process of deciding to make the sacrifice and going through with it, only to discover that her husband has made the same sacrifice. The story's narrator assures us that in their willingness to give up all they have, they have proven themselves the wisest of all gift-givers. It might remain unclear, though, exactly what their sacrifice has accomplished, or how it has affected them. WEALTH Page5

In many ways, "Gift of the Magi" is a story about what it means for something to be valuable. Does something's value lie in how much money it is worth? Or are other things more valuable than money? The main characters are very poor this is repeatedly emphasized and yet the story suggests that their love for each other makes them very rich. It is that love, which motivates them to give up the only things of monetary (or personal) value they have to buy presents for each other. Perhaps their poverty is what enables them to appreciate what really matters. WOMAN AND FEMININITY The main character of "Gift of the Magi" is a woman named Della. Loveable as she is, at times, Della is hysterical, often overreacting, a characteristic that the narrator identifies as "feminine." Della's complete and single-minded devotion to her husband could raise the question of whether the love in their relationship is between equals or based on a difference in power between the two.


The Necklace
by Guy de Maupassant Setting Belle poque Paris The story's set in Paris, that magical, glamorous city of lights where just about every other work of 19th century French literature is set.

Characters 1. Mathilde Loisel wants to be a glamour girl. She's obsessed with glamour with fancy, beautiful, expensive things, and the life that accompanies them. Unfortunately for her, she wasn't born into a family with the money to make her dream possible. Instead, she gets married to a "little clerk" husband and lives with him in an apartment so shabby it brings tears to her eyes. 2. M. Loisel is the "little clerk in the Department of Education" to whom Mathilde's family marries Mathilde off. Mathilde herself, as we're quick to find out, isn't terribly happy about her middle-class husband. 3. Mme. Jeanne Forestier is wealthy. That's basically all you need to know. She's the rich friend: the person you turn to when you need something absolutely fabulous to wear to that ball next weekend but don't have the money to buy anything appropriate. 4. M. Georges Ramponneau is the guy who throws the fabulous ball that just might be the best few hours of Mathilde's life. He's the Minister of Education, which makes him M. Loisel's boss (which is probably why M. Loisel was able to get the invitation). Page5 5. The first jeweler is the man whose name is on the box in which Mme. Forestier's necklace comes. Naturally, when Mathilde loses it, he's the one she

and her husband go to, to see about replacing it. This jeweler apparently didn't sell the necklace to Mme.

Plot At the beginning of the story, we meet Mathilde Loisel, a middle-class girl who desperately wishes she were wealthy. She's got looks and charm, but had the bad luck to be born into a family of clerks, who marry her to another clerk (M. Loisel) in the Department of Education. Mathilde is so convinced she's meant to be rich that she detests her real life and spends all day dreaming and despairing about the fabulous life she's not having. She envisions footmen, feasts, fancy furniture, and strings of rich young men to seduce. One day M. Loisel comes home with an invitation to a fancy ball thrown by his boss, the Minister of Education. M. Loisel has gone to a lot of trouble to get the invitation, but Mathilde's first reaction is to throw a fit. She doesn't have anything nice to wear, and can't possibly go! How dare her husband be so insensitive? M. Loisel doesn't know what to do, and offers to buy his wife a dress, so long as it's not too expensive. Mathilde asks for 400 francs, and he agrees. It's not too long before Mathilde throws another fit, though, this time because she has no jewels. So M. Loisel suggests she go see her friend Mme. Forestier, a rich woman who can probably lend her something. Mathilde goes to see Mme. Forestier, and she is in luck. Mathilde is able to borrow a gorgeous diamond necklace. With the necklace, she's sure to be a stunner. The night of the ball arrives, and Mathilde has the time of her life. Everyone loves her (i.e., lusts after her) and she is absolutely thrilled. She and her husband (who falls asleep off in a corner) don't leave until 4am. Mathilde suddenly dashes outside to avoid being seen in her shabby coat. She and her husband catch a cab and head home. But once back at home, Mathilde makes a horrifying discovery: the diamond necklace is gone. M. Loisel spends all of the next day, and even the next week, searching the city for the necklace, but finds nothing. It's gone. So he and Mathilde decide they have no choice but to buy Mme. Forestier a new necklace. They visit one jewelry store after another until at last they find a necklace that looks just the same as the one they lost. Unfortunately, it's 36 thousand francs, which is exactly twice the amount of all the money M. Loisel has to his name. So M. Loisel goes massively into debt and buys the necklace, and Mathilde returns it to Mme. Forestier, who doesn't notice the substitution. Buying the necklace catapults the Loisels into poverty for the next ten years. That's right, ten years. They lose their house, their maid, their comfortable lifestyle, and on top of it all Mathilde loses her good looks. After ten years, all the debts are finally paid, and Mathilde is out for a jaunt on the Champs Elyses. There she comes across Mme. Forestier, rich and beautiful as ever. Page5

Now that all the debts are paid off, Mathilde decides she wants to finally tell Mme. Forestier the sad story of the necklace and her ten years of poverty, and she does. At that point, Mme. Forestier, aghast, reveals to Mathilde that the necklace she lost was just a fake. It was worth only five hundred francs.

Conflict It's a party and I'll cry if I want to The action proper begins when M. Loisel (Mathilde's husband) comes home with the invitation to the fabulous ball and Mathilde reacts by having a fit. Now we have a specific problem: Mathilde's now has the best opportunity she's ever had to have a taste of the high life, but she has nothing to wear. That problem sets the rest of the plot in motion.

Point of View Third-Person Omniscient The story's focus is certainly on Mathilde, but the narrator does not speak from her point of view. Instead, he talks about Mathilde as if he were from the outside looking in. When he brings her up at the beginning, she's just "one of those girls". It sounds like he's seen a lot more of them than just this one. That's omniscient, all right. Mathilde's also not the only character whose thoughts he can see into; he's able to speak into her husband's thoughts just as easily, when he wants to.

Themes WEALTH "The Necklace" gets its title from the gorgeous piece of diamond jewelry that drives the story's plot. The expensive nature of the necklace is not the only way in which wealth is central to this story. The main character of "The Necklace" is obsessed with wealth. She wants nothing else than to escape from her shabby middle-class life with a shabby middle-class husband and live the glamorous life for which she was born. She's so jealous of her one wealthy friend it hurts. When Mathilde's given the chance to get decked out in diamonds and go to a ritzy party to mingle with all the beautiful people, it seems like her dreams have finally become a reality. Then she loses the borrowed diamond necklace, gets cast into poverty, and learns what it means to truly live without money. WOMAN AND FEMININITY


Mathilde Loisel, the main character of "The Necklace," is a 19th century French version of a desperate housewife. Because she's a woman in a man's world, she has almost no control over her life. She finds herself married to a husband she doesn't care for, and cooped up in a house she despises. What she wants more than anything else is to be desirable to other men. And what's particularly irritating is that she has all the "womanly virtues" she needs in order to be desirable: she's charming, graceful, beautiful. She's just doesn't have the necessary wealth. Does Mathilde Loisel capture the tragic plight of the modern, middle-class woman? Is she a victim of the patriarchal society in which she lives? Or is she just a shallow and materialistic character? PRIDE You can read "The Necklace" as a story about greed, but you can also read it as a story about pride. Mathilde Loisel is a proud woman. She feels far above the humble circumstances (and the husband) she's forced to live with by her common birth. In fact, her current situation disgusts her. She's a vain one too, completely caught up in her own beauty. It could be that it is also pride that prevents Mathilde and her husband from admitting they've lost an expensive necklace. After the loss of the necklace makes Mathilde poor, and her beauty fades, she may learn a pride of a different sort: pride in her own work and endurance. SUFFERING The Necklace" is a difficult story to read. If you think about it, it's about nonstop suffering, caused by the cruelty of life and chance. At the opening, we meet Mathilde, the classic dissatisfied housewife, who spends her days weeping about how boring and shabby her life is. Mathilde finds one moment of real joy when she goes to a ball, but chance is cruel. Her happiest night becomes her worst nightmare when she loses the diamond necklace she borrowed. Then she and her husband experience a very different sort of suffering: the suffering of real poverty. And all of this is just the buildup to one devastating ending


The Monkey's Paw

by W.W. Jacobs Setting Laburnam Villa, somewhere in England, around 1902 The main setting of "The Monkey's Paw" is inside and around the White family home, called Laburnam Villa. The story is probably set around the time it was published, in 1902.

Characters 1. Mr. White is the elderly man who buys the monkey's paw and uses it to wish for two hundred pounds (British money) in order to pay off the loan on his house. 2. Mrs. White is a strong woman, and the narrator even says she's smarter than her husband. Page5

3. Herbert White seems the least likely character to believe in the power of the monkeys paw, but he's the one who sees (or thinks he sees) the monkey's face in the fire. 4. Sergeant-Major Morris is described as middle-aged: older than Herbert but younger than his parents. 5. The Man from Maw and Meggins is perhaps the most mysterious character in the story. He wears fancy clothes and works for the company that employed Herbert White. 6. The Monkey, Somebody cut off its paw to make a possibly magical bad luck charm. This critter is forgotten and is rarely if ever mentioned in discussions of the story.

Plot "The Monkey's Paw" is set in the White family home in England. It begins on a dark and stormy night, so we know we're in for a scary story. The Whites Mr. and Mrs. White and their adult son Herbert are inside enjoying a cozy evening around the fire. Soon Sergeant-Major Morris arrives. He's been in the army in India for the past 21 years. He tells the Whites stories of his adventures in that faraway land and shows them a monkey's paw that has the power to grant three wishes. Mr. White wants the paw, but Morris tells him it's cursed people get hurt when their wishes are granted. He tries to burn the paw in the fire, but Mr. White snatches it up and buys it. After Morris leaves, Mr. White, following Herbert's suggestion, wishes for two hundred pounds, the amount of money he would need to pay off the bank and own the house outright. The next morning, Herbert goes off to work as usual and Mrs. White watches for the two hundred pounds to show up. In the afternoon, a fancily dressed man pays the Whites a visit. He is from Maw and Meggins, the company Herbert works for. The man tells the Whites that Herbert has been killed in a machinery accident. (We aren't given details of Herbert's work, but the clues suggest that he works in some kind of factory.) The man says that the company takes no blame for Herbert's death but wants to give the Whites some money to help with their loss. You can probably guess how much money the man gives the Whites. That's right, two hundred pounds. Mrs. White screams and Mr. White faints. Full of sadness over Herbert's death, Mr. and Mrs. White bury him in the cemetery two miles from their home. One night Mrs. White gets a bright idea: use those other two wishes to bring Herbert back! She shares her plan with Mr. White. He thinks it's a bad idea he could barely look at Herbert's mangled body when he went to identify it. His


wife really turns up the heat, though, and he caves in. Mr. White pulls out the cursed monkey's paw and wishes Herbert back to life. Nothing happens, so the Whites go back to bed. Soon after, someone or something starts pounding on the door. (Have you seen Pet Sematary? This cannot be good.) Mrs. White is sure it's Herbert it just took him a minute to get there from the cemetery. Mr. White is sure it's Herbert too, and he doesn't want his son to get in the house, so he makes his third wish on the monkey's paw. (We aren't told what it is.) The knocking stops. Mr. White hears Mrs. White open the door. He hears her scream out in agony because Herbert is not there. He goes outside with her and sees that the road is completely empty.

Conflict To wish or not to wish? Morris warns the Whites that the paw was specifically designed to hurt the people who wish on it. He has wished on it himself but isn't sure if he would do it again. Since the paw couldn't possibly really have magical powers, what harm would there be in wishing on it, just for fun?

Point of View Third Person (Omniscient) "The Monkey's Paw" is narrated in the third person. The narrator is like a spider on the wall inside the Whites home, conveying and commenting on the events taking place there, but never joining in on any of the action. The narrator keeps description to a minimum, giving us just enough information to piece things together. He (we'll call the narrator a he) never tells us more than is absolutely necessary. For example, he could come right out and tell us whether the paw has magical powers. He could tell us exactly what happened to Herbert, and if it really was him knocking on his parents' door. Heck, he could even tell us what Mr. White's final wish was. But he doesn't. This narrator wants us to use our imaginations to answer these and other questions on our own.

Themes SUPERNATURAL Do you or don't you believe in the power of the monkey's paw? This is one of those stories, unlike the Harry Potter books, where we aren't ever quite sure whether Page5

supernatural forces are at work or not. It's like "The Monkey's Paw" is trying to convince us of two conflicting things: 1) that the paw really is magic and directly causes Herbert White's death; and 2) that the paw isn't magic and Herbert's death just happens to coincide with Mr. White's wish for two hundred pounds. DEATH In "The Monkey's Paw" we watch as the White family is transformed from a loving trio into a grief-stricken duo with the death of Herbert White. We can all relate to this aspect of the story. The loss of a loved one is one of the hardest things to deal with in life. "The Monkey's Paw" can be seen as a story about how one family deals with the death of their last living son, and the frightening possibility that he could be brought back to life. For Mrs. White, death is the worst possible fate for her son, and she'd prefer him alive, no matter the cost. Mr. White, on the other hand, seems to believe that there is a fate worse than death for his son being some kind of mangled, undead monster. FATE AND FREE WILL This story is also about how we make choices. Think of Mr. White. He decides he wants to keep the paw, but it's Herbert who suggests the first wish, and Mrs. White his second one. He seems to make this second wish against his will. He knows it could be disastrous, but he does it anyway, either because he can't say no to his wife or because he wants to please her. His final wish, whatever it is, could be seen as a sign that his character is getting stronger. He is learning (rather late in the game), to take control of his life and to make good, careful choices on his own. FAMILY At the center of "The Monkey's Paw" is the White family. The family is made up of Mr. and Mrs. White and their adult son Herbert. Their loving home is disrupted by the arrival of the monkey's paw and Herbert's subsequent death. Morris mentioned that wishing on the monkey's paw leads to utter disaster, and the fact that Mr. White's first wish is twisted such that Herbert dies indicates that a death in the family is the worst possible thing that could happen to the Whites worse, for example, than losing their home. Mr. and Mrs. White's intense grief over Herbert highlights how much they adored their son, as does Mrs. White's desire to have her son back, no matter the cost. TECHNOLOGY AND MODERNIZATION From the late 1700s to the mid 1800s, British society underwent a huge transformation, known as the Industrial Revolution. Lots of factories were built in cities, providing many of jobs. At the same time, because of advances in agricultural technology, fewer workers were needed on farms. This led people to leave the countryside and move into cities in droves.


The Whites seem to be an exception to this rule. We get the impression that they live in an isolated, almost-forgotten area. Herbert commutes to his factory job by train. The factory's reaction to Herbert's death speaks not only to the dangerous working conditions in factories at the time, but also to the rise of feelings of alienation brought by increased industrialization and mechanization. Herbert is important to the company only as a worker, someone to run the machinery, not as a flesh-and-blood human being.