The Gift of the Magi

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Jim’s gold watch Symbol Analysis

Jim’s gold watch Symbol Icon
Jim’s watch holds sentimental value for him as well, having been passed down from generation to generation. In this way, the watch represents Jim’s ties to the family he grew up in—the family he leaves in order to make a new family with Della. The watch also more conventionally represents time, which Jim gives to Della in the form of the hours he works to support the household and the hours he spends at home afterwards. As the narrator mentions towards the story’s end, Jim is never late returning from his job. The gold in the watch can also symbolize several things, including purity, money (which the couple lacks), inner value, and permanence.

Jim’s gold watch Quotes in The Gift of the Magi

The The Gift of the Magi quotes below all refer to the symbol of Jim’s gold watch. 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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It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation--as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim's. It was like him. Quietness and value--the description applied to both.

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

In order to have more money with which to buy Jim a Christmas present, Della sells her hair to a wig shop for $20 without a second thought. She roams around shops, searching for the perfect present, and finally happens upon what she believes to be the only chain worthy of accompanying Jim's watch.

Della places extreme importance on the personified qualities and worth of the chain because she purchase it to express the traits she admires most in her husband. She loves him for his simplicity, and how he appreciates that which has substance, not just "meretricious ornamentation." Ironically, Della is concerned about buying an expensive yet subtle present for someone she admires precisely for his lack of desire for shiny trinkets. However, purchasing the absolutely perfect present is important to her because she sacrifices her most precious possession, her knee-length hair, in order to purchase the chain. She is willing to sell her hair for any amount because she values Jim's happiness far and above any monetary amount her hair might be worth. More than the worth of just the chain, the gift she is giving to Jim is the immeasurable value of the chain, the hair, her sacrifice, and her unconditional love. 

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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Jim’s gold watch Symbol Timeline in The Gift of the Magi

The timeline below shows where the symbol Jim’s gold watch 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
...most prized possessions: Della’s long, brown hair that falls below her knees and Jim’s gold watch that was passed down from his grandfather. He compares these items to King Solomon’s treasures... (full context)
Value Theme Icon
Beauty Theme Icon
...a perfect present for Jim. She decides finally on a simple platinum chain for Jim’s watch, comparing the watch’s lack of ornamentation and value to Jim’s personality, which is equally quiet... (full context)
Value Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Beauty Theme Icon
...Jim comforts her before she remembers her own present to Jim. She pulls out the watch chain and asks to see Jim’s watch so that she might try the chain on... (full context)
Value Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Sacrifice Theme Icon
...now and that they’re too nice to use just yet—before admitting that he sold the watch to buy the combs for Della. They decide to have dinner, and the narrator sums... (full context)