What are the themes of the story?
There are several themes in "The Gift of the Magi," but the most important are the themes of love and selflessness. The two main characters, Della and Jim, each have a profound love for one another; the story states, "One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. She had put it aside, one cent and then another and then another, in her careful buying of meat and other food. Della counted it three times. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas. There was nothing to do but fall on the bed and cry. So Della did it." Despite saving what little money she was able to, Della is unable to save enough to buy a gift she finds worthy of her husband, Jim, "something almost worth the honor of belonging to Jim." Della sells her beautiful hair in order to get enough money to buy Jim a watch chain. She loves him so much that she sacrifices something very important to her to buy him something he truly wants, showing both themes of love and selflessness.
As the story progresses, the reader is concerned about Jim's reaction of seeing Della with her short hair; he stops and seems upset. However, as the details are further revealed, the reader learns what truly happened when Jim says, "Let’s put our Christmas gifts away and keep them a while. They’re too nice to use now. I sold the watch to get the money to buy the combs." Della and Jim each sacrificed their own most prized possessions, Della's hair and Jim's watch, to purchase something for the other; however, each item is now rendered useless because of what they sold.
At the end of the story, the third person narrator equates the two characters to the magi - wise men who brought gifts to the baby Jesus, the first Christmas gifts. Though the originally narrator states these two were not wise because "each sold the most valuable thing he owned in order to buy a gift for the other," he then explains to the reader that of all gift givers, these two are the most wise and compares them to the magi because of their love and selflessness.