Exploring the Meaning Behind Della’s Hair: What Does Della’s Hair Symbolize?

When it comes to literature, there are always hidden meanings behind every word and action. One character that has been heavily analyzed over the years is Della from “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry. One particular aspect that has been scrutinized is her hair and what it symbolizes. Della’s long hair is a pivotal part of her identity and plays an important role in the story’s themes of love, sacrifice, and selflessness.

As we dive deeper into the symbolism of Della’s hair, we begin to understand why it was so significant. Her hair was more than just a physical attribute, it represented her femininity and beauty. It was something that she cherished and took great pride in. However, as the story progresses, we see Della’s hair take on a new meaning. It becomes a symbol of sacrifice and love as she sells it to buy her husband a gift.

But what does her hair truly symbolize? Some argue that it represents the traditional roles women were expected to play in society during the time the story was written. Others see it as a symbol of youth and innocence, as Della cuts it off to show her dedication to her husband and their love. No matter how one interprets it, Della’s hair plays a significant role in the story and adds layers of depth and meaning to the already moving plot.

The Significance of Hair in Literature

Hair has always held a special significance in literature as a tool for symbolizing various themes and motifs. From biblical stories to modern day novels, hair has been used to portray a character’s personality, social status, and even their emotional state. In this article, we will be exploring the significance of hair in literature, with a specific focus on what Della’s hair symbolizes in the short story “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry.

How Hair is Used in Literature

  • Symbolizing physical appearance and beauty
  • Representing a character’s emotional state or personality
  • Reflecting social status or cultural norms
  • Portraying a character’s transformation or growth

Della’s Hair in “The Gift of the Magi”

In “The Gift of the Magi,” Della’s long, flowing hair is a symbol of her beauty and femininity. She is described as having “rippling, shining” hair that falls down “to her knee.” This long hair is a point of pride for her, and she is heartbroken when she decides to sell it in order to buy her husband a Christmas gift. This sacrifice not only shows her love for her husband, but also represents her willingness to give up something she values in order to show that love.

Della’s hair also represents the couple’s economic struggle. They are both very poor, and Della’s hair is one of the only valuable things they own. The fact that she sells it in order to buy a watch chain for her husband shows the lengths they are willing to go to in order to show their love for each other. It also highlights the fact that they are both surviving on meager means and they don’t have any other options but to sell their valuables in order to buy each other gifts.


Hair is a powerful symbol in literature that can be used to represent a wide variety of things. In “The Gift of the Magi,” Della’s hair is a symbol of her beauty and femininity, as well as her sacrifice and the couple’s economic struggle. It is a powerful reminder of the lengths we will go to in order to show our love for those closest to us, and how even the smallest sacrifices can be the most meaningful.

Symbolism What it Represents
Hair Physical appearance, emotions, social status, character growth
Della’s hair in “The Gift of the Magi” Beauty, sacrifice, economic struggle

In literature, hair is much more than just a physical feature. It’s a powerful symbol that can be used to explore a character’s innermost thoughts, feelings, and motivations. “The Gift of the Magi” is just one example of how hair can be used to represent complex themes and ideas, and we can expect to see it used similarly in many other works of literature.

Contextual Analysis of “The Gift of the Magi”

“The Gift of the Magi” is a timeless literary masterpiece that has captured the hearts of readers for over a century. One of the central elements of the story is Della’s hair, which symbolizes sacrifice, love, and a willingness to give up worldly possessions for the sake of others. The following subtopics provide a contextual analysis of the role that Della’s hair plays in this classic tale.

The Symbolism of Della’s Hair

  • At the beginning of the story, Della’s hair is described as her “great treasure.” It reflects her youth, beauty, and femininity, and is a source of pride for her.
  • However, when she sells her hair to buy Jim a gift, it becomes a symbol of her sacrifice and love. By giving up something that is so precious to her, she demonstrates the depth of her devotion to Jim and her desire to make him happy.
  • Della’s hair also represents the theme of selflessness and the willingness to give up material possessions for the sake of others. In a world that often celebrates consumerism and materialism, Della’s sacrifice is a reminder that true happiness comes from love and generosity.

The Importance of Context

The symbolism of Della’s hair is deeply rooted in the context of the story. The early 20th century was a time of economic hardship for many Americans, and people were often forced to make difficult choices in order to make ends meet. Della’s decision to sell her hair is a reflection of the financial struggles that many ordinary people faced during this time, and her sacrifice takes on added significance because it is made in the context of poverty and hardship.

In addition to the economic context, the story is also set during the Christmas season, a time when people traditionally exchange gifts as a symbol of their love and appreciation for others. Della’s decision to sell her hair in order to buy a gift for Jim is therefore especially poignant because it connects her sacrifice to the spirit of generosity and selflessness that is central to the Christmas holiday.

The Role of Irony

Finally, it is worth noting the role of irony in the story. The gifts that Della and Jim give to each other are ultimately useless because they are based on a desire to please the other person rather than on practical considerations. Della’s sacrifice of her hair for a set of combs that Jim can no longer use, and Jim’s sacrifice of his watch for a set of hairpins that Della can no longer wear, are therefore ironic because they demonstrate the futility of trying to express love through the exchange of material possessions.

In conclusion, Della’s hair symbolizes sacrifice, love, and selflessness in “The Gift of the Magi.” Its meaning is deeply rooted in the historical and cultural context of the story, and its significance is enriched by the use of irony. Through Della’s sacrifice, the story reminds us of the importance of giving and loving others, even in the face of hardship and adversity.

Symbolism of Della’s Hair Importance of Context Role of Irony
Represents sacrifice and love Rooted in the context of poverty and Christmas Gifts are ultimately useless and ironic
Symbolizes selflessness and generosity Connected to the spirit of giving and love Demonstrates the futility of material possessions

Physical Appearance as a Symbol in Literature

In literature, physical appearance can serve as a powerful symbol to convey deeper meanings within a story. This can be seen in the case of Della’s hair in the short story “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry.

The Symbolism of Della’s Hair

  • Della’s long hair symbolizes her femininity and youth, which are important characteristics in her society.
  • Her decision to sell her hair to buy Jim a Christmas gift represents her sacrifice of her physical beauty for love.
  • The loss of her hair also serves as a symbol of the sacrifice and selflessness necessary for true love and giving.

Physical Appearance and Characterization

In addition to symbolism, physical appearance can also be used to signify aspects of a character’s personality or morality. In “The Gift of the Magi,” for example, Jim’s shabby clothing and worn appearance suggest his humble and hardworking nature, while Della’s beautiful hair represents her youth, femininity, and ultimately, her capacity for selfless sacrifice.

Through characterization in literature, physical appearance can be used as a storytelling tool that creates meaning beyond surface-level understanding. It can add depth to a character and their actions, as well as convey a story’s themes and messages.

The Importance of Symbols in Literature

Symbols, including physical appearance, are an important part of literature because they provide readers with a deeper understanding of a story’s characters, themes, and messages. By paying attention to symbolism, readers can gain a richer understanding of a story and its significance beyond the plot’s surface-level events.

Symbol Meaning
Della’s Hair Femininity, youth, sacrifice, and selflessness
Jim’s Clothing Humility, hard work, and sacrifice

Physical appearance, like other symbols in literature, can provide a deeper understanding of a story’s themes and emotions. It allows readers to connect with characters and their struggles in a more profound way, making it a vital aspect of any well-written narrative.

The Relevance of Hair Length in Storytelling

Hair length has been used as a symbol in storytelling for centuries. The way a character’s hair is described, styled, or presented can provide insight into their personality, culture, and beliefs. In literature, films, and TV shows, hair length is often used to add depth to a character and help the audience understand their journey better. Here are the main reasons why hair length matters in storytelling.

  • Symbol of Rebellion: Long hair has often been associated with rebellion and nonconformity. In the 1960s and 70s, long hair on men became a symbol of the counter-culture movement, while in the 80s, punk rockers and heavy metal musicians embraced long hair as a way to rebel against mainstream culture.
  • Symbol of Femininity: Long hair on women is often used to symbolize their femininity and beauty. In fairy tales, princesses are often described as having long, flowing hair, while witches and evil characters have wild hair or bald heads.
  • Symbol of Power: In some cultures, hair is associated with power. In ancient Greece, long hair was a symbol of royalty and power, while in Native American culture, long hair was believed to be a source of strength and spiritual power.

Della’s hair in O. Henry’s classic tale “The Gift of the Magi” is an example of how hair length can be used to convey deeper meaning. Della’s long, beautiful hair is a symbol of her youth, beauty, and femininity. When she cuts her hair to buy a gift for her husband, it symbolizes her sacrifice, love, and devotion. The moment when Della cuts her hair is a turning point in the story, signaling a shift in her perception of her relationship with her husband and the true value of their love for each other.

Hair length can also be used to show a character’s transformation throughout a story. For example, in the TV show “Breaking Bad,” Walter White’s hair gradually gets shorter and more unkempt as he transforms from a mild-mannered chemistry teacher into a ruthless drug dealer. The change in his appearance reflects the change in his personality and the moral compromises he makes along the way.

Hair Length Symbolism
Short Efficiency, practicality, modernism
Medium Flexibility, openness, adaptability
Long Beauty, femininity, rebellion, power, youth

In conclusion, hair length can be a powerful tool in storytelling, providing insights into a character’s personality, culture, and beliefs. By using hair length to convey symbolism and meaning, writers can add depth to their characters and make their stories more impactful and memorable.

The importance of hair in women’s identity

Women’s hair has always played a significant role in their identity. With its versatility, symbolism, and cultural significance, it can speak to a woman’s personality, beliefs, and even social status. Here are some reasons why hair is such an integral part of women’s identity.

  • Cultural and historical significance: Throughout history, hair has been a central aspect of a woman’s identity. In different cultures, hair length, style, and color have indicated a woman’s age, marital status, and societal role. For example, in ancient Egypt, long and elaborate hairstyles were a sign of beauty and social status, while in medieval Europe, women with shaved heads were seen as penitent and holy.
  • Self-expression: Hair can be a form of self-expression, allowing women to communicate their personal style and taste. By changing their hair color, length, and style, women can exhibit their creative flair and assert their individuality.
  • Sexuality: Hair can also be symbolic of a woman’s sexuality. Throughout history, women who wore their hair loose and long were often seen as sexually promiscuous, while those with shorter, more practical hairstyles were considered more modest and chaste. Today, hair remains an essential part of women’s sexual expression, with many using it to signal their sexual orientation or desires.
  • Health and beauty: Hair can also be an indicator of a woman’s health and beauty. Lustrous, shiny hair is often seen as a sign of good health and vitality, while dull, brittle hair can be a symptom of illness or poor nutrition. Women often spend a significant amount of time and money on hair care, from daily washing and styling to regular salon appointments and treatments.
  • Emotional significance: Finally, hair can hold deep emotional significance for women, particularly in times of trauma or change. Women may cut or dye their hair as a way of coping with a breakup or loss, or to mark a significant life change such as starting a new job or becoming a mother. Similarly, women who experience hair loss due to illness or treatment may feel a profound sense of loss and grief.

All of these factors make hair an essential part of a woman’s identity. Whether it’s a cultural tradition, a form of self-expression, or a way of coping with change, a woman’s hair can say a lot about who she is and what she values.

Hair as a Cultural Symbol

Throughout history, hair has been more than just an aesthetic feature. It has held significant cultural and social value, symbolizing everything from femininity and masculinity to social status and political beliefs. How we wear our hair can express our individuality, cultural identity, and even spiritual or religious beliefs.

  • Religious Significance: Hair is an important part of many religious traditions, with long hair often symbolizing spiritual strength and purity. For example, in Sikhism, uncut hair is seen as a sign of devotion to God and is worn wrapped in a turban. In Hinduism, hair is viewed as a symbol of devotion to the god Vishnu, and many Hindus leave a tuft of hair on their heads, known as a “shikha.”
  • Social Status: In some cultures, hair was once a way to distinguish social status. For example, in the 16th century, women in England with long, flowing hair were thought to be of higher status than those with short hair. Similarly, in ancient China, hair was often styled in elaborate coifs, with different styles denoting different social ranks.
  • Gender Roles: Hair has long been associated with gender roles, with long hair often considered a symbol of femininity and short hair of masculinity. However, these gender norms have evolved over time. During the 1920s, women in Western societies began to embrace short hair as a sign of liberation, while in many African societies, short hair on women has traditionally been seen as beautiful and feminine.
  • Revolutionary Symbol: Hair has also been used as a symbol of revolution and political beliefs. In the 1960s and 1970s, many young Americans grew their hair long as a sign of rebellion against the conservative social and political norms of the time.

With this rich history of cultural and social significance, it is no wonder that hair has taken on such an important role in literary and pop culture. Della’s hair in “The Gift of the Magi” is just one example of how hair can be used to symbolize deeper themes and emotions.

Overall, our hair is much more than just a physical attribute. It can carry powerful cultural and spiritual significance, reflecting our beliefs, social status, and even political views.

Culture Hair Symbolization
Native American Braids may signify tribal affiliation or the completion of a vision quest
Japanese Geishas have hairstyles that signify their rank and experience level
Greek During the classical period, Greek women wore their hair in elaborate styles, with curls and braids denoting social status and wealth

The table above highlights just a few examples of how different cultures use hair to express their values and beliefs.

Historical significance of hair as a commodity

Hair has been a valuable commodity throughout history, with societies placing great cultural and economic importance on it. Here are some examples of how hair has been used:

  • In ancient Egypt, hair was considered a symbol of wealth and power. Both men and women would shave their entire bodies and wear wigs made of human hair. The higher the quality of the wig, the higher the social status of the wearer.
  • In many Native American cultures, hair was seen as a spiritual symbol. Men and women would grow their hair long, and it was only cut in times of mourning or as a sign of disapproval towards someone. The hair was often woven into elaborate braids or headdresses.
  • During the Victorian era, hair was used in mourning jewelry. After a loved one passed away, a lock of their hair would be woven into a piece of jewelry, such as a brooch or pendant. This was seen as a way of keeping the deceased close and honoring their memory.

In addition, hair has been traditionally used to make a variety of practical items, such as brushes, textiles, and even fishing nets. In some cultures, hair was used as currency and was traded in exchange for goods and services.

Today, the global hair trade is a multimillion-dollar industry. Human hair is often used to make wigs and extensions, and there is a high demand for high-quality, unprocessed hair. However, the hair trade is also plagued by ethical concerns, such as the exploitation of women who sell their hair for a meager sum and the lack of regulation in the industry.

Overall, hair has played a significant role in many cultures throughout history and continues to be a valuable commodity today.

The Symbolism of Hair in Folk Tales

Hair has long been associated with feminine beauty and power in various cultures. In many folk tales, hair is used as a potent symbol of a character’s identity and inner qualities. Della’s hair in O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” is no exception to this tradition. Here’s a closer look at what Della’s hair represents in the story.

The Number Eight

In “The Gift of the Magi,” Della’s hair is described as “rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters.” However, what’s notable about her hair is that it’s not just any ordinary hair. It’s hair that has been carefully grown and cherished for a long time.

  • The number of stories in the building where she and her husband Jim live is eight. This number symbolizes infinity, balance, and abundance. Della’s hair represents the wealth of her love for Jim, which is infinite and boundless.
  • The number eight is also associated with new beginnings and cycles, which is fitting for Della’s sacrifice and the renewal of her relationship with Jim.
  • In Chinese culture, the number eight is considered lucky, especially in financial matters. Della’s hair, which she sells to buy a gift for Jim, can be seen as a metaphor for her sacrifice and the financial luck that it brings in the form of Jim’s watch chain.

Overall, the number eight in relation to Della’s hair adds to the story’s themes of love, sacrifice, and new beginnings.

The Role of Hair in Societal Norms and Expectations

From the ancient times to the present day, hair has played a significant role in defining beauty standards and social norms. Throughout history, hair has been viewed as an important symbol of power, strength, and beauty, and its color, length, and style have communicated a variety of meanings.

  • In ancient Greece, long hair was seen as a symbol of power and status, reserved for nobility and warriors. Men with long hair were considered to be strong and powerful, while women with long hair were seen as feminine and attractive.
  • In medieval Europe, short hair symbolized piety and humility, while long hair was associated with sin and vanity.
  • In the 20th century, short hair for women became popular as a symbol of women’s liberation and independence.

Throughout history, hairstyles have also been used to communicate social status and identity. Haircuts and styles have distinguished members of different social groups, such as soldiers, religious leaders, and royalty.

Nowadays, hair continues to play an important role in our society, particularly in defining beauty standards. The media often portrays long, thick hair as a symbol of femininity and beauty. Hair products and salons advertise their ability to make hair look healthier, shinier, and more voluminous, perpetuating the societal norm that hair is meant to look a certain way.

Length Meaning
Short Professionalism, practicality
Medium Versatility, approachability
Long Femininity, beauty, youthfulness

While societal norms and expectations regarding hair continue to evolve, hair remains an important means of communicating identity and expression. Whether it’s through length, color, or style, the way we wear our hair can communicate a lot about who we are and how we want to be perceived.

Comparing Della’s hair with other literary characters’ hair symbolism.

Throughout literature, hair symbolism has been a significant tool for writers to convey their characters’ traits and emotions. Della’s hair in “The Gift of the Magi” is no exception. Here are some comparisons with other literary characters’ hair symbolism:

  • Sampson’s hair in the Bible: Sampson’s hair represents his strength and power. When he cuts his hair, he loses his strength, which ultimately leads to his downfall.
  • Daenerys Targaryen’s hair in Game of Thrones: Daenerys’ silver hair symbolizes her Targaryen lineage, royal status, and her unconquerable spirit.
  • Juliet Capulet’s hair in Romeo and Juliet: Juliet’s hair represents her purity, innocence, and youthfulness.

Similarly, Della’s long, beautiful hair is an essential piece of symbolism in O. Henry’s story. Her hair represents her femininity, sacrifice, and love for Jim. When she cuts her hair to buy Jim a Christmas present, she parts with her most treasured possession, highlighting her immense love for him. It also represents her poverty and simplicity. Della’s hair is described as “rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters.” The imagery of “brown waters” connotes a humble and pure nature. Della’s hair symbolizes her character’s purity, innocence, and simplicity.

Della’s hair’s symbolism is powerful in showing the extent of love and sacrifice a person can make for someone they care for. It is this kind of intense devotion that we find in the classic works of literature, which make them timeless and unforgettable.

FAQs About What Della’s Hair Symbolizes

1. What does Della’s uncut hair represent?

Della’s uncut hair in “The Gift of the Magi” represents her inner strength and beauty.

2. Why did Della cut her hair?

Della cuts her hair to buy a Christmas present for her husband Jim in the story “The Gift of the Magi.”

3. What does Della’s short hair symbolize?

Della’s short hair symbolizes her selflessness and sacrifice for love.

4. How does Della feel about cutting her hair?

Della is saddened by the loss of her long hair, but is willing to do whatever it takes to show her love for her husband.

5. What is the significance of Della’s hair in the story?

Della’s hair is a symbol of her love and sacrifice for her husband, as well as her own beauty and strength.

6. What does Della’s hair symbolize in terms of societal norms?

Della’s hair symbolizes a rejection of societal norms and expectations, as she gives up something valued by society (her long hair) for something she values more (her love for Jim).

7. Does Della’s hair symbolize anything else?

Some interpretations suggest that Della’s hair symbolizes the passage of time and the impermanence of beauty.

A Personal Thanks for Reading!

Thanks for taking the time to read about what Della’s hair symbolizes in “The Gift of the Magi.” It’s amazing how a simple physical feature can hold so much meaning and significance. Hopefully, this article has given you a greater appreciation for the power of symbolism in literature. Make sure to come back again soon for more thought-provoking articles!