Imagery is used in “The Gift of the Magi” to add humor and description to the story, so that we feel like we are there with the young couple.
Imagery is descriptive language that creates a picture in the reader’s mind. One example of imagery from the first paragraph of the story uses color and figurative language to describe Della’s reaction to not having enough money to buy a decent Christmas present.
Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. (p. 3)
The color imagery is burning cheeks, which gives the reader a strong impression that Della was ashamed at asking for lower prizes. The sentence also use the phrase figuratively, because her cheeks were not on fire. When she talks of “bulldozing” the shopkeepers, this figurative description reinforces the idea of her personality being the driving force, and her desperation and self-destruction to get her way.
Della flops, a descriptive word in itself, on a “shabby” couch and cries. She reflects on what her flat, described as “furnished” and “$8 a week.”
It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad. (p. 3)
This is a pun on the words “beggar description” meaning it did not require description but “mendicancy” also means beggar. The point is that they are very poor, but Della is fairly smart and has a wry sense of humor.
The descriptions continue. Letters don’t fit in the mailbox, and there is “an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring” which is a figurative and very descriptive way of saying it was broken using metaphor and personification.
When Della looks out the window, the imagery is a metaphor for her feelings.
She stood by the window and looked out dully at a grey cat walking a grey fence in a grey backyard. (p. 3)
Della is feeling very grey and depressed because she cannot buy her husband Jim a present, and the next day is Christmas.