The Gift of the Magi
How we cite our quotes:
It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation – as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim's. It was like him. Quietness and value – the description applied to both… Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain. (19)
In Della's eyes, real value is not something flashy or ornamental. It's "chaste" and simple, not the kind of thing to call attention, but still beautiful and of great worth. That applies to the watch chain, all of whose value comes from the metal it's made of. But it also describes Jim, who's simple and unassuming but of great worth. The image of the beautiful watch with the shabby leather strap captures the contrast between Jim's "inner value" and his poor appearance very well.
The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two – and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves. (25)
Jim's very appearance reflects his poverty, from the worn overcoat and lack of gloves to his thinness and the seriousness on his face. That seriousness probably comes from being overburdened and overly worried.
For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year – what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on. (34)
Here the narrator draws explicit attention for the first time to the two different ways of thinking about value: monetary value or something else. The implication is that money isn't what's really valuable – the difference between a poor man and a rich man is of no great worth. What the real measure of value is the narrator doesn't say, though he promises to tell us more later on. (Although we don't think that he ever does explicitly tell us.)