James Dillingham Young, better known in the story as Jim, is a twenty-two year old office worker in New York City. He is thin, his coat is threadbare, his step on the apartment house steps is slow with worries. At some point before the time of the story his income was reduced by one-third, so he carries with him the burden of providing for himself and his wife on a significantly reduced budget. This weighs heavily on his spirit but doesn't diminish his love for Della.
Della is very much in love, physically thin, and, at the beginning of the story, has richly colored brown hair that hangs longer than her knees when let loose. In the story, we are given insight into her thought process as she makes the great sacrifice of selling her hair in order to purchase a Christmas present for Jim.
If Jim doesn't kill me," she said to herself, "before he takes a second look at me, he'll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do - oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty-seven cents?
Madame Sofronie buys hair. She waits for customers to come to her and has very little concern or compassion for any troubles that may have brought them to her.