illustration of two people, a woman and a man, looking at one another in profile with an ornate hair comb between them

The Gift of the Magi

by O. Henry

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What impression does "The Gift of the Magi" give of Madam Sofronie?

Quick answer:

Readers get the impression that Madame Sofronie is uncaring and heartless, and that impression is created through a mixture of direct and indirect characterization.

Expert Answers

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Madame Sofronie is an interesting character. She stands in stark contrast to Della and Jim, but what is amazing to me is how extremely limited her presence in the story is. Her presence is roughly 10 lines of text, and she says fewer than two dozen total words in the story. Madame Sofronie is presented to readers as someone that is all business, values material goods rather than people, and is in general a combination of cold and uncaring.

The author immediately lets readers know that Madame Sofronie is "large, too white, and cold-eyed." This description does not present readers with a warm, friendly, and jovial shop keeper. Madame Sofronie bluntly orders Della to let her hair down, and it must have been an incredible sight. A few paragraphs before this sequence, readers are told that Della's hair is more beautiful that the jewels and gifts of a queen. On top of that, Della has a lot of her hair. It reaches down just past her knees. Madame Sofronie doesn't gasp at the sight of Della's cascading hair. She doesn't compliment it, nor do her eyes widen. She gives zero indication at all of being impressed by the beautiful hair. All Madame Sofronie responds with is a dollar amount. That's all Della's hair is worth to her. It's a material good to be bought and sold. Madame Sofronie is emotionally empty and completely uncaring, and that stands in stark contrast to Della and Jim who have almost nothing of material goods, but they are filled with emotion.

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