The Gift of the Magi Symbol Analysis

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Updated: Apr 30, 2024
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The Gift of the Magi Symbol Analysis

This essay will analyze the use of symbolism in O. Henry’s short story “The Gift of the Magi,” focusing on how symbols like the Magi and the gifts enhance the themes of love, sacrifice, and irony. Also at PapersOwl you can find more free essay examples related to Analysis.

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O. Henry, an American author known for his short stories is effective at creating loving, and humorous events in his writings, particularly in one of his best-known works, The Gift of the Magi, where the reader can often laugh at the ironic situations within the lives of the main characters Della and Jim. In this story, there is an apparent use of symbols that help further the development of one of his common themes of “love and happiness being truly within oneself.

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” The author uses these symbols in his short story, The Gift of the Magi over the course of his story that creates a deeper meaning by the self-sacrifice that both of the central characters felt they had to make in order to create happiness for their loved one. The married couple Della and Jim eventually do recognize what is truly valuable or important and forget what is not. Even though both characters are worried because of their strained financial status; by the end of the story, they are able to laugh at themselves and their mistakes. Finally, by realizing what is “truly valuable” they are able to reach inside of themselves and recognize the self-sacrificing love they have for one another in order to be happy.

Examining the idea about Della and Jim recognizing “what is truly valuable or important in their lives,” Della and Jim are like the Magi in the bible because they give gifts that cannot be used. This allusion from the title of the story links the couple to the Magi in the bible. Della gives a gift Jim cannot use; she chooses “a gold watch chain, very simply made . . .” (Henry, pg. 3). Jim gives a gift that his wife cannot use; he chooses “beautiful combs with jewels, perfect for her beautiful hair” (Henry, pg. 5). In a way, the Magi could be said to have brought gifts that the baby Jesus could not use either. After all, what is an infant going to do with gold, frankincense, and myrrh? These items could harm or even kill an infant. The Magi recognized the miracle of the child of God and wanted to honor this. Della and Jim recognized the value and importance of each other in their lives, because of the fact that they loved one another. By using the symbol of the gifts of the Magi and the self-sacrificing gifts of the protagonists Della and Jim, the author shows the meaning of “love and happiness are truly within oneself” because it is the thought of valuing someone by giving them a gift that is important, not the gift itself.

Another thing observed to be a symbol while reading this short story was Jim’s gold watch and Della’s long hair. In the story, Della and Jim started having financial issues when Jim’s pay rate went down form thirty dollars a week to twenty dollars a week. Della only had a dollar and eighty-seven cents in her pocket to buy Jim something for Christmas, and she was really worried about it because she deeply cares about her husband and wants to get him something special to show him that. These symbolize sacrifice, because the couple was willing to give up their most prized possession in order for the other to be happy. In the story it read “Della knew her hair was more beautiful than any queen’s jewels and gifts” (Henry, pg 2). “Jim knew that no king had anything so valuable” (Henry, pg. 2-3) referring to his watch, which was his father’s and before that, his father’s. Della and Jim could not really afford to buy each other something for Christmas, so they sacrificed the one thing they loved to get each other something. Della cut all of long, brown hair off, risking the only thing that she thought made her beautiful, and went and bought the gold watch chain. Jim sold his gold watch, giving up what was basically a family air loom, and got Della the gorgeous comb set.

Finally, last thing that stood out as a symbol in The Gift of the Magi was when Della’s face lost color when Jim seen her (she turned pale). That symbolizes a small insecurity that Della has. Della knows that she is beautiful, but she could have possibly thought that she would be less beautiful without her long hair, or Jim would think she was ugly because he had loved her long hair so much. When Jim walked through the door in the story, Della prayed saying “please god, make him think I’m still pretty” (Henry, pg 4). Della didn’t know how she would be perceived with short hair, being that she had such long hair for a long period of time. She thought Jim wouldn’t love her the same, not knowing he loved her for herself. Della made such a courageous move, by removing what she thought made her pretty on the outside; she unleashed the beauty she had within. With her finding her inner beauty, this furthermore helps develop an understanding of the theme of “love and happiness being truly within oneself.”

These are not all the symbols observed in The Gift of the Magi, but they are the ones found to be the most significant in understanding the story. Della and Jim had a marriage based off of love and care, which is why they stressed about getting the best gift for each other, because they both think the other deserves so much. When it turned out that Jim and Della had gotten each other useless gifts because they sacrificed their prized possessions to make the other happy, they realized that all they really needed were each other. At the end of the story, Jim and Della are able to look back at their selfless acts and laugh at it. They were not the perfect couple, but they had love and happiness so they made it work.  

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The Gift of the Magi Symbol Analysis. (2021, Mar 24). Retrieved from