The Gift of the Magi Beat Sheet: A Plot Guide for Writers

One of the most enduring American short stories of the 20th century, “The Gift of the Magi” (published by O. Henry in 1905) is well worth studying—you can even read it for free. In this gift of the magi beat sheet, we’ll show you how the story’s plot fits neatly into the W Plot structure. If you’re thinking of giving someone a big gift, you may just wish to read this first!

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Act 1: First Trigger Event + Turning Point

Beat 1 – Trigger Event #1

It’s Christmas Eve. Our protagonists, Della and Jim Dillingham, are a poor, young married couple living in a small apartment. They only have two possessions (in which they both take a mighty pride): Jim’s gold pocket watch (a family heirloom) and Della’s beautiful, long hair “shining like a cascade of brown waters.” After all of the month’s expenses, Della realizes she only has $1.87 for Jim’s gift and starts to cry.

Beat 2 – Turning Point #1

As she looks at herself in the mirror, Della has a burst of inspiration and rushes outside. She goes to a nearby store that sells hair and asks if they’ll buy hers. They offer her $20, which she gladly takes to shop for Jim. After a couple of hours of searching, she finds a beautiful platinum chain for $21 to pair with Jim’s pocket watch and happily heads home with 87 cents.

Act 2: Second Trigger Event + Turning Point

Beat 3 – Trigger Event #2

When Della gets home, she worries about what Jim will think of her new hair and starts to curl it. As it gets closer to 7 pm, her anxiety increases, and she starts to pray. She hears his steps, coming home from work. He opens the door—and stares at her with a confusing, peculiar expression that terrifies her. She asks if he still likes her now that her hair is different. She promises she sold it for a good reason.

Beat 4 – Turning Point #2

Awaking from his trance, Jim assures Della he likes her the same no matter her hairstyle but explains that she’ll see why she had him going when she opens his package. Inside, she finds a set of hair combs she has long coveted and starts to scream for joy. Then, she gives Jim his chain and asks him to show it on his watch. But he smiles and explains that he sold it to buy the combs.

Act 3: Resolution

Beat 5 – Resolution

Jim suggests they put their gifts away for now and lays down on the couch, content to spend Christmas with his wife, Della. The story ends as the narrator resolves that their sacrifices for each other are wiser than the original gifts of the magi (for Christ in the manger)—the gifts they gave each other represent selflessness, the wisest gift of all.

The Gift of the Magi Beat Sheet (Plot Guide) - Plottr

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