“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.
Beauty Quotes in The Gift of the Magi
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.
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.
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."