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This sentence from the exposition of O. Henry's poignant short story "The Gift of the Magi" is one which helps to establish mood. The color imagery of the "gray cat" on a "gray fence" in a "gray backyard" connotes gloom and despondency on the part of Della. For, as narrator O. Henry has indicated that Mr. James Dillingham Young has had more prosperous times in which he was paid thirty dollars per week; now, however, his salary has been cut by ten dollars, which is a substantial amount within the setting of this story which occurs place around the turn of the twentieth century.
Della is despondent because she has the meager amount of one dollar and eighty-seven cents with the next day being Christmas Day. With such a small amount of money, even after she has saved for months, Della cannot buy anything nice for her loving husband. So, when she looks out the window, nature assumes the color of her spirit as she views the scene of a cat walking on a backyard fence in the monochromatic shade of gray.
The setting of the story is based on a gloomy and dull atmosphere.Words such as 'gray cat','grayfence' and 'gray backyard' are used to maintain this atmosphere throughout the story.
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