The Gift of the Magi

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Sacrifice Theme Analysis

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Value Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Sacrifice Theme Icon
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Sacrifice Theme Icon

At the beginning of the story, Della and Jim have only two prized possessions—Della’s hair and Jim’s watch. In order to overcome their poverty and to give a good Christmas present to the other, each sacrifices the item that they value the most. The sacrifices turn out to have been made rather uselessly, since the gifts they buy can’t be used. One could argue that they ended the story in the same place they started out—minus Della’s hair and Jim’s gold watch—but the narrator suggests that they’ve added value to their relationship through generosity and sacrifice.

The significance of the magi is summed up in the last paragraph, as the narrator compares Della and Jim to the magi who invented the art of gift giving, suggesting that the value of a gift lies in the intent, the level of generosity, and the sacrifice behind it, rather than its material value.

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Sacrifice ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Sacrifice appears in each section of The Gift of the Magi. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Sacrifice 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 Sacrifice.
The Gift of the Magi Quotes

And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

Related Characters: Della, Jim
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

After Della tells him she has cut and sold her hair in order to buy him a Christmas present, Jim admits that he sold his watch in order to buy Della the hair combs she has been admiring for months. Thus, Della sold her hair to buy Jim a chain for a watch he no longer has, and Jim sold his watch to buy Della combs for hair she no longer possesses. 

At the end of the story, and in this quote, the narrator invokes the Biblical story of the Three Wise Men, the "magi" who first gave the baby Jesus gifts in his manger, thus traditionally inventing the ritual of gift giving around Christmas. The narrator notes that though Della and Jim might seem "foolish" for their miscommunication in the gift exchange, they are in fact like magi themselves. The wisdom to be willing to sacrifice their greatest possessions in order to bring happiness to the person they love makes them the "wisest," and therefore just as sacred as the original magi. 


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