O. Henry can’t count: Students notice the obvious in “The Gift of the Magi”

by Mr. Sheehy

Who knows how many times I have read the beginning of O. Henry’s story, “The Gift of the Magi.” By now I read it the same each time, emphasizing the weight of every specific detail:

“One dollar and eighty seven cents.”

I pause dramatically before moving on, to make sure students catch the feel of Della’s plight even before they know Della.

“That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies.”

My pause this time is shorter, as I aim to pick up momentum through the first long sentence of the story, but just as I begin to utter the beginning of that sentence, “Pennies saved one and two at a time . . . ”  a student shouts over the top of me.

“Where did the other seven cents come from?”

“What?” I ask, stopping short.

“Where did he get the other seven cents?”

I look up from my paper and see the numbers in my head. 60 pennies? But 87 cents? “I don’t know,” I admit.

“Did he have a 27 cent quarter?” the student posits.

Turning red, I stifle a laugh and bite my lip. Soon I release the laugh and spike my copy of the story to the floor.

“This is amazing!” I half yell, half laugh. “O. Henry was an idiot!

“And I had no idea!

“You guys are changing literature for me.”