What does Della's action of cutting her hair to buy Jim a gift reveal about her character and her relationship with Jim? What does it show about Della's conflicts, motivations, and traits?  

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Della in "The Gift of the Magi" is a loving wife and a selfless person. The story starts by telling us that she has only $1.87 to buy a gift for Jim. She has spent much of her time scrimping and saving—going so far as to haggle with the men at the market. She wants to get Jim the perfect gift for Christmas to show him her appreciation, but they don't have enough money to make it work.

She finally resorts to selling the only thing of value she owns; she walks down to a wig shop and offers to sell her hair. This is a grand gesture, given that her hair is not just valuable, but precious. As O. Henry describes, "Della knew her hair was more beautiful than any queen's jewels and gifts." He elaborates further:

Della's beautiful hair fell about her, shining like a falling stream of brown water. It reached below her knee. It almost made itself into a dress for her.

Her hair is not only more beautiful than the jewelry and riches of the Queen of Sheba, but it is also very long. Della spent a lot of time cultivating and caring for her hair. To cut it off for $20.00 is, therefore, a great sacrifice.

Not only that, but Della is then self-conscious about her new look. It isn't that she doesn't like her short hair; she is worried about what her husband will think. She is continually thinking of Jim and tries desperately throughout the story to show him the type of love she feels he deserves.

O. Henry finishes the story by saying, "Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest." Here, O. Henry indicates that Della and Jim, sacrificing their most valued possessions for the one that they love, they showed genuine affection. There is wisdom and goodness in the action that Della takes: giving up something she most prizes in order to give something worthy to the person she loves most.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” Della’s action of cutting her hair reveals her self-sacrificing love for her husband Jim.

At the outset of the story, Della is conflicted about how to buy “Her Jim” a worthy Christmas present with only $1.87. After staring out the window, she suddenly looks at herself in the mirror and “let[s her hair] fall to its full length,” musing that if “the queen of Sheba lived” nearby, “Della would have let her hair hang out the window […] just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts.” Her hair is her prized possession, but Della only “falter[s] for a minute” before selling her hair for twenty dollars. The author spends no time describing regret, and instead Della is completely focused on finding Jim a present.

Even once Della is home and fixing her hair into “close-lying curls,” she does not mourn the loss of her hair and only prays to God that Jim “think[s she is] still pretty.” Della is entirely motivated by her love for Jim.

Check out the character analysis of Della for more support.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial