The Gift of the Magi

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Themes and Colors
Value Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Sacrifice Theme Icon
Beauty Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Gift of the Magi, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Beauty Theme Icon

“Gift of the Magi” constantly contrasts the idea of inner beauty and value with outside appearances. The story begins, for example, with a description of bleak surroundings (“a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray background,” “shabby couch”) while hinting at a warm home life that brightens the exterior (Jim arrives home “to be greatly hugged”). When Della examines the watch chain, she also compares its exterior appearance and actual value to Jim’s own appearance and value. Both lack ornamentation, but are remarkable and beautiful for their inner substance.

Della also worries that Jim will no longer find her pretty once she sells her hair—but when he sees her and recovers from the shock of her haircut, he tells her that there’s nothing in the way of “a haircut or shave or shampoo that could make me like my girl any less.” If anything, Jim appreciates the generosity of Della’s sacrifice, and the story ends on a satisfied note, with Jim sitting back on the couch and smiling.

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Beauty Quotes in The Gift of the Magi

Below you will find the important quotes in The Gift of the Magi related to the theme of Beauty.
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.