O. Henry's classic short story "The Gift of the Magi" is rich with symbolism and imagery. By the way the characters are represented and the circumstances in which they live in are described, the readers can conclude that Della and Jim are quite poor; the old carpet, the broken appliances and apparatus, their worn out out clothes, their small and humble home, their lack of funds—all of these descriptions symbolize their struggles with poverty. Despite their day-to-day hardships, however, Della and Jim are very much in love and live a harmonious, happy, and fulfilling life; their determination to buy each other gifts is essentially a symbol of that powerful love that they feel for one another.
Della's hair and Jim's watch are two very important symbols in the story, as they represent Della's and Jim's willingness to sacrifice something that they hold very dear to their hearts and even consider their most prized possessions in order to make their significant other happy. Della sells her hair to buy Jim a chain for his watch, knowing that the gold watch is very important to Jim, as it symbolizes his love for and devotion to his family. Jim, on the other hand, sells his watch, which was passed down from generation to generation in his family, to buy Della ornamental combs for her gorgeous, long hair, knowing that Della loves and cherishes her hair, as it symbolizes her beauty and grace. In the end, their plan backfires, but they realize that nothing is futile—her hair will grow back, and he'll eventually pawn his watch back—and that love is actually the greatest gift of all.
Finally, the three magi that O. Henry mentions symbolize the people's ability to be generous, kind and caring; the three magi are the first gift bearers in the Bible—they were the first people who came to visit Jesus when he was born and gave him precious gift to honor his birth and bless him with good fortune. Their gifts were a symbol of love and appreciation, and the practice of gift giving became a much loved tradition during the holiday season.