Why did Della take pride in the beauty of her hair?

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O. Henry exaggerates Della's pride in her beautiful long hair for the same reason that he exaggerates Jim's pride in his gold watch.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim's gold watch that had been his father's...

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O. Henry exaggerates Della's pride in her beautiful long hair for the same reason that he exaggerates Jim's pride in his gold watch.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim's gold watch that had been his father's and his grandfather's. The other was Della's hair. Had the Queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty's jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

The author's purpose is to convey an impression of both Della's and Jim's feelings when they sacrifice their most treasured possessions for each other. But this is mainly Della's story. Readers will always remember "The Gift of the Magi" as a story about a young woman who sold her beautiful hair in order to buy her husband a Christmas present. Her sacrifice seems much greater than Jim's.

Della naturally takes pride in her hair because it is exceptionally beautiful and she has tended to it for so many years. It is her "crowning glory." But she is not as proud of it as O. Henry claims. It turns out to be worth only twenty dollars on the market. We sympathize with her when she goes to the vulgar Madame Sofroni and is shorn of her hair. We sympathize with her again when she gets home and looks at herself in the mirror. We sympathize with her while she is awaiting her husband's return. All of this is because we have been made to believe that her hair was of the greatest importance to her. She is making a supreme sacrifice out of her love for her husband. It is ironic that she has made the sacrifice for nothing, because Jim has sold the watch for which she sacrificed her hair to get the money to buy him the platinum watch-fob.

O. Henry felt he had to exaggerate the importance of Della's hair--to Della--in order to get the effects he wanted. We can identify with her feelings from the moment she rushes out of the flat to sell her hair up to the moment Jim returns from work and sees her looking like "a Coney Island chorus girl." We learn that one of the reasons Della attached such importance to her hair was that she thought it made Jim love her. But it turns out that he loves her just as much with or without her hair.

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