Explain the following quote from "The Gift of the Magi": "I buy hair," said Madame. "Take your hat off and let`s have a sight at the looks of it."O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In O. Henry's poignant story, "The Gift of the Magi," after Della whirls from the window and stands before the pier glass in hers and Jim's flat, she makes the rather rash decision to sell her hair so that she can purchase a Christmas present for her dear husband.  Throwing on her old brown jacket and hat, with eyes sparkling, she scurries out to the street.  Once there, she spots a sign that reads,

Madame Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.

Della runs up the one flight to the shop where she encounters the owner. This woman hardly looks like she should be Madame Sofronie as she is too white, too large, and is unprofessional.  When Della asks her if she will buy her hair, the woman matter-of-factly replies, "I buy hair...Take yer hat off and let's have a sight at the looks of it."  Her words and dialect clearly indicate a total lack of sophistication in the woman.  When Della takes off her hat and her luxurious hair cascades down, the banal woman simply and impersonally says, "Twenty dollars" as she holds up the thick hair with a "practiced hand." 

Perhaps it is better for Della that this cheap woman buys her hair without complimenting it, for parting from her beautiful locks would be all the harder if she were to praise Della's hair.  Mme. Sofronie--so phony?--is in sharp contrast to Della and Jim who are passionate and warm and loving to one another.  She represents the material world, a world in which Jim and Della have no part.