Labov’s Model Application on a Short Story “THE GIFT OF The MAGI” By O’ Henry


William Labov’s (1972) Model of Narrative Analysis provides a theoretical framework for analyzing a selected American short story, The Gift of the Magi; by O Henry whose real name was William Sydney Porter.

Application of Labov’s Model to “The Gift of the Magi” by O Henry

The following section delves deeper into the six structural aspects of Labov’s sociolinguistic model to explain how language functions in O Henry’s narrative “The Gift of the Magi”. This analysis will assist us in comprehending the reasons for critical points in the narrative being placed in a specific location to elucidate the narrative’s meaning.

1. Abstract

The first step of Labov’s model is abstract.

Story Abstract (A)

The title of this story gives the basic and important information:

  1.  There is a character in the story named “Magi”. She is going to have a story with the “Gift”.
  2.  The whole story revolves around the “Gift”. The story’s opening sentences showed:

“Life for Della is much more hard, this attracts readers to focus on what would happen next.”

Story Abstract (B)

This short story is about James and Della Dillingham Young. They are a young couple. Despite of their poverty, they both individually may a way to give each other an elegant gift on Christmas Eve. Della sold her beautiful long hair in order to buy a classy chain for Jim’s antique gold watch. Meanwhile, Jim pawns his treasured watch to purchase jeweled embellished comb for Della’s precious locks.

2. Story Orientation

The second step of Labov’s model is story orientation.

Story Orientation (A)

With the story goes on, Della and Jim is a young married couple. They live in a modest apartment. Christmas Eve is on the next day. Della herself wants to buy Jim a Christmas present. But poor Della has left only $1.87.  

  1. Time: Day before Christmas Eve.
  2. Setting:  A simple decaying apartment in New York city
  3. Point of view: third person  
  4. Characters:
  5. Della (major character): Pretty young woman who cuts off her beautiful long hair and sells it to buy a Christmas gift for her husband.
  6. Jim (the husband): He sells his gold watch to buy a gift for Della.
  7. Madam Sofronie: she is the owner of a hair shop. She contrasts with the couple. She symbolizes the materialistic world to show the contrast. This materialistic world is opposite of the emotional world of Della and Jim.

Story Orientation (B)

“The Gift of the Magi” has taken place in a furnished flat in New York City. Whole story time is the day before Christmas. The time of this story is important. It tells us why Della and Jim need a present for each other. Here are the details:

B.1 Characters

In Orientation Who means characters of the story. There are three characters in this short story “The Gift of the Magi”. First one is Della Dillingham Young who is the main character. Second character is her husband Jim. Third and last character is Madame Sofronie. Della and Jim is a young married couple who want to give each other special Christmas gifts. Madam Sofronie is the owner of a hair shop where Della sells her hair to pay for a gift for Jim.

B.2 Setting

In Orientation When and Where covers the setting of the story.

  • When: (day before Christmas Eve) Here When is the time of the story. It is clear that the story happens during Christmas holidays. As shown in the first part of the story the lines: “…and the next day would be Christmas.”(p.1)
  • Where: (shabby little but furnished flat in New York City) Here Where is the place of the story. The story happens at the rented apartment of Della and Jim. Apartment is described as having furnished room: “Furnished Flat at a cost of $8 a week? There is little more to say about it.” (p.1)  

The narrator immediately gives us information of of the two most important details of the story’s setting: first is that it takes place on a Christmas Eve. Second are its two main characters live in a very unassuming flat. The action of the story depends on the fact that Christmas is tomorrow and Della needs to buy a present now, even with her small amount of money. It’s couple’s poverty which both forces them to make the sacrifices they do, and which makes those sacrifices meaningful. O. Henry gives us enough detail to convey an image of its squalor. Apartment is cheap, sparsely furnished, and has a broken mailbox and a broken doorbell. The physical setting in which Jim and Della is living creating a contrast with the warmth and richness of their love for each other.

B.3 Point of View

Point of View (A)

Point of View in The Gift of the Magi is the perspective the narrator, storyteller, and takes when telling the story. The Narrator (writer) tells the whole story through the eyes of Della. Through her we come to know about the Young’s circumstances and the love that exists between the two.

Point of View (B)

The story is told in the third person limited omniscient point-of-view. What Jim did during the story was not narrated in the story. It only follows Della. The use of pronouns “he,” “she,” “it,” “they,” “him,” “her,” “his,” and “them” shows how the narrator refers and addressed someone in the story.

B.4 Rituals

This story tells about the importance of giving gifts on Christmas Eve. Whole story is about the struggle of giving presents to their loved one on Christmas day. This story also tells about magi who were wise men, brought wise gifts for the newly born Christ child.

3. Complicating Action

The third step of Labov’s model is complicating action.

Story Complicating Action (A)

Della pulls down her beautiful hair in front of the mirror. While admiring her hair she is thinking about something. She goes out and cuts off her hair to sell. She gets $20 to buy the platinum chain.

Story Complicating Action (B)

Della wanted to buy James a very special Christmas gift.

Della had no enough money to buy the anything.

An idea comes in Della’s mind to solve her problem. 

The climax is reached which is the most exciting or tense part of the plot, the highest emotional point.

Della cuts her hair and sells it for the money she needs.


We understand why Jim was so shocked because he bought Della’s favorite comb as a present. We also come to know that he’s not angry with Della. He assures Della that he’ll love her no matter how she looks. Climax doesn’t fully “predict” the ending. It is the first half of the twist. And if we think about where Jim got the money to buy those combs then we might be able to guess what happens next.

4. Evaluation

The fourth step of Labov’s model is evaluation.

It functions to make the point of story clear. It includes intensifiers, modal verbs, negatives, repetition, evaluative commentary, embedded speech, comparisons with unrealized events.

5. Result or Resolution

The fifth step of Labov’s model is result or resolution.

Story Result or Resolution (A)

Finally when she cut down her hair another problem appear in front of Della. The conflict is where the “problem” appears in the story; this story began with a problem. Della solves the first problem through action. By selling her hair, Della gets the money. Thereafter she gets a perfect present, but now there’s a new problem: will Jim be pleased by her gift, or will he be angry with her hair he liked so much?

When Jim arrives, he doesn’t seem to react well: he stares at Della and can’t seem to process that her hair is gone. But it doesn’t look like he’s angry, as much as simply shocked. Neither we nor Della quite understand what kind of reaction he’s having. This creates suspense; we want to know what it is he’s actually feeling, how hell reacts to Della’s gift. When Della opens Jims present and there is her favorite comb. Now we understand why Jim was so shocked. It also becomes clear now that he will love her no matter how she looks. Although the climax doesn’t fully “predict” the ending, it is the first part of the twist.

Story Result or Resolution (B)

Resolution in The Gift of the Magi is when all the problems or mysteries of the plot are unraveled and settled. Both Della and Jim realize the other has made a great sacrifice to purchase a meaningful gift. These true acts of love are more precious than any material present. They enjoy Christmas in the love for each other.

6. Coda of the Story

The sixth step of Labov’s model is coda.

The narrator tells us that it doesn’t matter that Jim and Della’s presents turned out to be useless. They are the wisest givers of all.  Their gifts are gifts of love. We leave feeling satisfied and happy. The ending is with a twist. Here is a classic case of irony. Their determination was to find the perfect gift which leads each character to make a sacrifice. That sacrifice makes each gift useless. The result is the exact opposite of what Jim and Della expected. What makes this ending so bittersweet is that it only comes about because they acted on their intentions: their gifts wouldn’t have been useless if they hadn’t given up their prize possessions.

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