As a result of their association with the Devil in the Garden of Eden, serpents, in Western culture, are often symbolic of temptation. The Devil tempted Eve to sin when he offered her an apple from the tree from which God said she and Adam must not eat. Mrs. Sommers, a woman who has had to make due with little for herself so that she could adequately provide for her children, is terribly tempted in this story by those silk stockings.
At first, she decides to use the money judiciously: paying a bit more for one child's shoes so that they will last longer, new clothing for her children rather than patching up the old and worn, some stockings for her girls, and even a hat for each of them. Having entered the store, however, and absentmindedly placing her hand upon something soft and pleasant, Mrs. Sommers becomes tempted to purchase something lovely for herself for the first time in a long time. The girl at the counter speaks to her, and "she [goes] on feeling the soft, sheeny luxurious things—with both hands now, holding them up to see them glisten, and to feel them glide serpent-like through her fingers." Tempted by the thought of treating herself, Mrs. Sommers purchases them and immediately exchanges her cotton stockings for the new silk ones. The temptation was too great for her to pass up.