“In the American Society” and “The Gift of the Magi” Essay

May 17, 2021 by Essay Writer


The act of giving is described as the presentation of a gift to the intended individual with the purpose of pleasing or offering assistance to the recipient (Myss 7). This act is clearly depicted in two books, namely, In the American society by Gish Jen and The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry.

This paper will analyze the theme of giving present in both pieces, as well as provide an evaluation of the theme’s existence in the two literature pieces.

In the American society

The book chronicles the challenges and tribulations faced by a Chinese-American family. The Chang family migrates to America from Taiwan, China, in pursuit of the American dream. However, all is not rosy as they realize that the American dream is an illusion, especially for Mr. Chang, who refers to it as an immigrant’s dream (Gish 44). The family struggles to fit in the American society and finds the task more difficult than they had previously imagined.

The book represents the social exclusion and culture shock that confronts most immigrants upon their arrival in America (Castillo 24).

The Gift of the Magi

The short story revolves around Jim and his wife Della, a poor couple that loves each other dearly. The couple only has two valuable possessions, Jim’s pocket watch that was given to him as a gift by his grandfather and Della’s long brown hair (Priddy 12). The author compares the value of these two possessions with King Solomon’s and Queen Sheba’s gifts. In this case, Jim and Della hold great importance to their possessions in a similar manner as the expensive gifts owned by King Solomon and Queen Sheba (Priddy 17).

The couple goes to great lengths to buy the perfect gift for each other for Christmas, only to realize the external value of their gifts is no longer of any use to either one of them.

Theme of giving

The act of giving as illustrated in In the American society adopts a give and take approach. In this case, any gift offered to the intended beneficiary is expected to be repaid in another form. This situation is represented by Mr. Chang’s character. He occasionally offers money to his employees and in return, he expects them to undertake odd jobs at the pancake house (Gish 29).

This situation also presents itself in Mrs. Chang. She tries to fit in the American social circle together with her daughters and as such, manages to obtain an invitation from Mrs. Lardner. In effect, she buys her husband a coat that he agrees to wear for her sake.

The twisted intent of giving in the book also reveals itself in Mrs. Lardner. Her real intention of gifting the Chang family with an invitation to her party is exposed when she requests Callie Chang to assist in serving at the party.

The book also depicts the consequences of not requesting something in return. Mr. Chang offers to help his employees, Booker and Cedric, obtain their permanent resident permits. However, they turn down his help. In addition, he gets into trouble with the Immigration Department when a disgruntled former employee reports Mr. Chang and accuses him of hiring illegal immigrants. However, he is set free, at the expense of Booker and Cedric. Mr. Chang however, posts their bail without expecting anything in return (Gish 77).

On the other hand, the theme of giving in The Gift of the Magi adopts a different approach. Jim and Della selflessly gift each other precious and expensive presents for Christmas. They each sacrifice their happiness and joy for the sake of their partner. The recipients also appreciate the gesture shown by the giver.

Della decides to cut her extremely long and beautiful hair to sell it to the hair salon where she gets it for $20. With the money in hand, she manages to buy Jim a platinum chain for his pocket watch (Priddy 25). However, she is apprehensive about Jim’s reaction to her cutting her hair. Although Jim is initially shocked by his wife’s new look, he appreciates the lengths his wife went to buy him the perfect gift.

Jim, on the other hand, decides to sell his pocket watch so as to buy the expensive hair combs his wife had long admired. Upon the realization that each partner’s gift was useless, it is revealed that the diminished external value does not have any effect on the intent that forms the basis of the gift.

The author at the end of the story compares Jim and Della to the magi or the three wise men that visited Baby Jesus and offered Him the gifts of Frankincense, myrrh and gold (Morgan-Cole 22). He indicates that Jim and Della are wiser than compared to the magi. Their love and sacrifice evidenced by the sale of their most prized possessions is greater than the external and material value of any gift.


According to Wright (12), the true value of a gift lies not on its material value, but on the sacrifice and intent of the giver. Therefore, the differences in the intent of the gift clearly come out in both In the American society and The Gift of the Magi.

Works cited

Castillo, Susan. American literature in context to 1865. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell Publishers, 2011. Print.

Gish, Jen. In the American society. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishers, 2006. Print.

Morgan-Cole, Trudy. That first Christmas: The wise men. Hagerstown: Autumn House Publishers, 2010. Print.

Myss, Caroline. Invisible acts of power: The divine energy of a giving heart. New York: Simon & Schuster Publishers, 2013. Print.

Priddy, Joel. The gift of the magi and other short stories. New York: Dover Publications, 2010. Print.

Wright, Lauren. Giving, the sacred art: Creating a lifestyle of generosity. Woodstock: SkyLight Paths Publishers, 2008. Print.

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