illustration of two people, a woman and a man, looking at one another in profile with an ornate hair comb between them

The Gift of the Magi

by O. Henry
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What is the meaning of the title "The Gift of the Magi"?

The meaning of the title “The Gift of the Magi” is that Della and Jim are both wise in the giving of their gifts. The magi were the wise men who came to Bethlehem to give gifts to the baby Jesus. Della and Jim are also wise in that they understand that the act of gift-giving involves love.

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One one level, as the narrator of “The Gift of the Magi” recognizes, Della and Jim have been extraordinarily foolish in giving each other useless gifts for Christmas. Della sold some of her beautiful hair to buy Jim a watch-chain, whereas Jim sold his watch to buy Della a set of fancy combs. So, by a strange twist of irony, Della and Jim have ended up with things for which they have no use, at least for now.

And yet, despite this, the narrator goes on to say that Jim and Della are the wisest among those who give gifts. This is because they understand that the act of gift-giving is about expressing love, not necessarily about giving someone something that they can use right away.

In that sense, Della and Jim can be compared with the magi, who were the three wise men who traveled from far distances to the little town of Bethlehem, where they bestowed gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh upon the baby Jesus. Such gifts were, of course, of no immediate use, but that wasn't the point. The point was rather the spirit in which they were bestowed. And the spirit in which they were bestowed was one of love, the exact same spirit in which Della and Jim gave each other Christmas gifts.

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