What is the symbolism in "The Gift of the Magi"?  

Expert Answers
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This highly ironic short story is normally used in schools as an excellent example of situational irony - when something happens that we don't expect it to. However, your question is right in identifying that there are examples of symbolism in this story too that we must not ignore. Clearly the biggest examples of symbolism are the hair combs that Jim buys for Dell and then the platinum fob chain that Dell buys for Jim are symbols of the deep love they have for each other. It is important to note what the author comments about their act of love. Consider the last paragraph of the story:

And 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. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the Magi.

The ending points to a central ambiguity in the story. In spite of their apparent "foolishness", they are proven to be truly wise, because they, in their complete readiness to sacrifice what is dearest to them for the other show true "wisdom" in their gift giving, and thus are truest to the original Magi who invented the tradition. For their presents symbolised love - true, unselfish and unyielding love.