The Gift of the Magi
How we cite our quotes:
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. (9)
The two prize possessions of Jim and Della are introduced. They're more valuable than anything else because they'd actually fetch a fair sum of money. They're also valuable in other ways, though. Jim's watch has a great sentimental value as something that has a long history in his family. Della's hair is actually a part of Della, her distinguishing feature, and probably the aspect of her looks Jim loves most. Both things are also especially valuable to the couple because, unlike almost anything else they own, these objects are truly beautiful.
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. (9)
This use of Biblical allusion really sticks out in a story otherwise sparse in such imagery. It's certainly a fanciful exaggeration. But it helps to emphasize how valuable the two possessions are to Jim and Della. It also couldn't clash more with the image of Jim and Della's humble apartment. This first suggestion that Jim and Della are actually among the richest people of all hints at the later affirmation of the value of their love.
Will you buy my hair?" asked Della.
"I buy hair," said Madame. "Take yer hat off and let's have a sight at the looks of it."
Down rippled the brown cascade.
"Twenty dollars," said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand. (13-16)
Whereas Della's hair is for her almost a treasure without price, for Madame Sofronie, it's just something else to be bought and sold. For twenty-dollars. She sees stuff like this all the time. The contrast between the value Della gives to it and the value Madame Sofronie gives to it is striking.