Madame Sofronie is a shrewd businesswoman who is not above trickery.
Madame Sofronie is a businesswoman who preys on the unfortunate. She knows that they will sell their hair out of desperation, and she profits by it. She pays them very little, considering that they are selling their self-respect.
Della goes to Madame Safronrie when she has no other hope. Everything about the woman is a calculation, even her name.
Where she stopped the sign read: “Mme. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the “Sofronie.”
The implication is that she is a white woman trying to pass herself off as an exotic foreigner to drum up business. She will do anything to make a sale.
She knows her business. She is described as having a “practised hand,” meaning she knows what she is doing. Della does not even care that she is selling her hair for only Twenty Dollars. It seems like a lot of money to her. She does not stop and think, so desperate is she to get a good present for her husband.
Madame Sofronie is chilly and harsh. She has no compassion and no heart. She does not have any need. As long as she comes out on the better end of the business deal, it is good enough for her. Unlike her namesake, she is no saint.
The irony is that Jim, Della’s husband, bought her a brush set for her hair. He felt that it was her best feature. They did not have much money, but they had beauty. O’Henry is telling us that wealth does not always come from material possessions. It comes from the love a young couple has for one another, and appreciation for the small things in life—like a head of hair, and compassion for a poor woman suffering. Madame Sofronie has wealth, but no beauty and no heart.