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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Della Young is very much an old-fashioned woman. She loves her husband and is completely dependent on him. She does not have an outside job but devotes her time to cooking, sewinig, housework, and shopping. She has not had a baby yet, but that is inevitable and will create additional problems for this couple. O. Henry's description of Della's long hair helps to characterize her as old-fashioned, domestic, complacent and dependent.

It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her.

It is hard to imagine any contemporary woman encumbering herself with such a enormous mass of hair. The story was written in the first decade of the twentieth century. One of the symbols of female liberation in the 1920s was younger women cutting off their hair, as if to free themselves from domestic confinement. This is the theme of one of F. Scott Fitzgerald's better-known short stories, "Bernice Bobs Her Hair" (see reference link below). A present-day reader of O. Henry's story might find it hard to appreciate what a traumatic sacrifice it was for Della to sell her beautiful hair, since it must have taken her hours to wash and dry it. She seems to be primarily motivated by a desire to please her lord and master, Jim. The contrast between Fitzgerald's "flappers" and O. Henry's simple, devoted heroine of just one generation earlier helps in understanding the character of Della Young.