What is important about the title of O. Henry's short story, "Gift of the Magi"?

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The title of the story actually establishes Jim and Della as the true magi: the new and modern magi. At the end of the story, the narrator says,

But let me speak a last word to the wise of these days: Of all who give gifts, these two were the most wise. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are the most wise. Everywhere they are the wise ones. They are the magi.
The narrator says that Jim and Della are "the most wise." They each gave up something that was precious to them in order to purchase a gift for the other. This decision was, perhaps, not a practical one; however, the fact that each one of them sacrificed in order to do something that would make the other happy shows them to be, if not practical, wise, because they understand that love is more valuable than any object they own. The wise men in the Christ story might not have understood what Jim and Della know—that love is more valuable than any object—because they were rich kings who did not have to sacrifice in order to make their gifts to Christ. In this way are Jim and Della the magi, then, as their wisdom exceeds that of the original magi.
readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a good question. The idea of the magi comes out at the end of the story. O. Henry calls Della and Jim wise, like the magi from the story of Jesus' birth.

In light of this, we need to know the context of the gospel story. In Matthew 2:1-12, we read about the magi. These are wise men that come from the east following a star to pay homage to the baby Jesus. They come from a far distance and they give gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh and they leave. We hear nothing more about these magi.

O. Henry calls Della and Jim wise like the magi, because they give each other costly gifts. In the story, Della cuts her hair and sells it to buy Jim a chain for his watch and Jim sells his watch to buy Della combs for her hair. In the end, it does not matter that they both have gifts they cannot use, because the wisdom here is not in receiving gifts, but in the giving of them. This is why they are wise.

twinkle96 | Student

The title "Gift Of the Magi" is a symbolism. When Christ was born, the three wise men brought gifts which they would bring to a king, befitting the honor and glory of a king. When Jim and Della find buy the gifts for each other, they buy the best they know the other person would love to have.