Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Della, or Mrs. James Dillingham Young, a young housewife in New York City. Deeply in love with her husband, Della is distraught that Christmas Day is imminent and she has but a pittance to spend for a gift for him. Her husband’s salary of $20 a week leaves little after living expenses are paid. Although her love for her husband is enough to sustain her even in this abject poverty, not being able to honor her husband with a worthy Christmas gift is simply too much to bear. She is overcome with tears of helplessness, but they pass as inspiration moves her to a creative solution to her dilemma. Della’s one prideful possession in the midst of her humble circumstances, her long, lustrous hair, may be the means to secure a present that she can wholeheartedly give her beloved. Her willingness to sacrifice for him bespeaks the depth of her love.
James Dillingham Young
James Dillingham Young, Della’s husband. Jim is a thin, serious young man of twenty-two who bears the burden of supporting his wife and himself on only $20 a week. Times had once been better for Jim. In brighter days, he had brought home $30 a week. A drop in their income has not changed the fact of their love for each other. Ever punctual, Jim may be so in part because of the one treasure he possesses, a beautiful gold watch that had belonged to his father and his grandfather before him. Slightly embarrassed by its inglorious fob, an old leather strap, Jim often checks the time furtively. He sacrifices the watch to buy combs for Della’s hair as his Christmas gift to her.
Madame Sofronie, the proprietor of the shop that sells “hair goods of all kinds.” A large, impassive woman, she offers Della $20 when Della seeks to sell her hair.