The Gift of the Magi

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Della’s hair Symbol Analysis

Della’s hair Symbol Icon
Della’s hair and Jim’s gold watch are the young couple’s most prized possessions at the start of the story, and their eventual sacrifice of these items represents the couple’s love. More specifically, however, Della’s hair represents her beauty and youth. Her hair reaches down below her knees, meaning that she must have started growing it very young, and the sentimental value it has for her is directly contrasted with Madame Sofronie’s brusque evaluation of the hair’s dollar value.

Della’s hair Quotes in The Gift of the Magi

The The Gift of the Magi quotes below all refer to the symbol of Della’s hair. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Value Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Doubleday, Page and Company edition of The Gift of the Magi published in 1906.
The Gift of the Magi Quotes

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim's gold watch that had been his father's and his grandfather's. The other was Della's hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty's jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

Related Characters: Della, Jim
Related Symbols: Della’s hair, Jim’s gold watch
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:

Though Jim and Della are poor in terms of their bank accounts, they are rich in three things: Della's hair, Jim's heirloom watch, and their mutual love for each other. The watch and Della's hair are special in that they are singular, unique items, not to be found anywhere else in the world. The items are priceless in their personal worth, meaning that even a richer couple with unlimited wealth would not be able to purchase them, and the poverty in which Della and Jim live does not mean that they lose these items. The fullness and beauty of Della's hair cannot be replicated on the head of a wealthier woman due to special products, and the rarity of Jim's watch only comes with antiquity and age over the years. O. Henry underscores the importance of these items using the hyperbolic, theoretical situations in which the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, two Biblical figures famous for their wealth, are jealous of the watch and the hair. By showing how impressive and priceless the hair and the watch are to the young couple, Henry thus renders the sale of the items in order to please the other person even more sacrificial and tragic. Though the items cannot be retrieved after they have been sold for a sum nowhere near their worth to the owner, the love that their sale proves is immeasurable. 

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Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: "Please God, make him think I am still pretty."

Related Characters: Della (speaker), Della, Jim
Related Symbols: Della’s hair, Jim’s gold watch
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

After buying the fob chain for Jim, Della goes home to prepare dinner and curl her newly shortened hair. When it nears the time that Jim returns from work each night, she waits impatiently by the door, eager to give him her present. However, when she begins to hear him ascend the staircase, she is struck with the fear that Jim will dislike the way she looks with the shorter hairstyle. 

Though Della's hair is technically her possession, both she and Jim hold pride in its singularity and its beauty. Similarly, Della also takes pride in Jim's watch even though it technically belongs to him, since it was passed down from his grandfather, to his father, and finally to Jim. After selling her hair, Della is suddenly worried that Jim will no longer find her beautiful without her luxurious, knee-length hair. Since it is an important aspect, but not a core part of her identity, Della was able to easily part with her hair in order to buy Jim a Christmas present. However, she is still overcome with the realization that she is not sure how much of Jim's attraction and love for her is predicated on the beauty and rarity of her locks. After sacrificing her hair, which takes years and years to grow, Della prays that she will not lose Jim's love along with it. 

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Della’s hair Symbol Timeline in The Gift of the Magi

The timeline below shows where the symbol Della’s hair appears in The Gift of the Magi. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Gift of the Magi
Value Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Beauty Theme Icon
...of thin mirror between the windows of the apartment—and stands before the glass, releasing her hair to fall to its full length. Here, the narrator describes the couple’s most prized possessions:... (full context)
Value Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Sacrifice Theme Icon
Beauty Theme Icon
Della runs downstairs onto the street, where she finds a hair shop run by a Madame Sofronie. After a brief exchange during which Madame Sofronie evaluates... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Sacrifice Theme Icon
Beauty Theme Icon
Della returns home to fix her hair into curls and prepare dinner before waiting for Jim at the door. She says a... (full context)
Value Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Sacrifice Theme Icon
Beauty Theme Icon
When Jim enters the door, he freezes, staring at Della’s hair without expression. Della runs to Jim and tells him that she had her hair cut... (full context)
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Love Theme Icon
Beauty Theme Icon
...opens the package to find the beautiful tortoiseshell combs that she had coveted for her hair. She shrieks in joy before crying, and Jim comforts her before she remembers her own... (full context)