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05. "THE GILDED SIX-BITS" by Zora Neale Hurston

Terms in this set (22)

Our first impression of Missie May is anything but innocent:

Her dark-brown skin glistened under the soapsuds that skittered down from her washrag. Her stiff young breasts thrust forward aggressively, like broad-based cones with the tips lacquered in black.

At the start of "The Gilded Six-Bits," Missie is a young, spunky woman who likes fun and games in a marriage and loves her husband, Joe.

Missie is by no means a meek or quiet wife; actually, she's kind of the opposite. When Joe comes home from work she says, "Nobody ain't gointer be chunkin' money at me and Ah not do 'em nothin'," (11) and proceeds to chase him around the yard and house. She enjoys verbal banter and roughhousing and is not afraid to challenge Joe when he tells her she can't do something. The boldness we see in the initial scenes hint at her impulsiveness, a quality that eventually leads to a really, really bad decision.

When Missie meets Slemmons, she doesn't think much of him:

He got a puzzlegut on 'im and he so chuckleheaded he got a pone behind his neck. (40)

But after hearing Joe talk so much about gold, gold, gold, she thinks that maybe she can get some out of him. We're not sure how many times Missie and Slemmons sleep together, but one night Joe finds Slemmons in his home, pants down. Uh-oh. From that point on, Missie is a new woman—repentant, sad, and quiet.

For the rest of the story Missie tries to get things back to normal and holds onto the hope that Joe will forgive her. At one point she actually does leave and plans on not coming back, but she's stopped in her tracks by none other than Joe's mama. Turns out she's still got a bit of her old self left because, "Never would she admit defeat to that woman who prayed for it nightly." (103) Ah, the power of mother-in-laws and pride.

Later, when Missie realizes she's pregnant, she's sure it's Joe's baby and not Slemmons'. Luckily, she's right. Missie gives birth to a healthy boy, the spitting image of Joe. At the end of "The Gilded Six-Bits," Missie May is much happier, and when Joe chucks money at the door she says, "You wait till Ah got mah strength back and Ah'm gointer fix you for dat." (137). Welcome back, Missie!
In "The Gilded Six-Bits" we get a pretty positive picture of Joe: he's a hard worker, he supports his wife, and he buys her presents. He even gives her cute compliments, like when they eat sweet potatoes and he says, "Ah don't want you to git no sweeter than whut you is already." (29) Come to think of it...does he have any single friends he can introduce us to?

It seems that all Joe thinks about is his wife—until the day that Otis D. Slemmons comes into town. Joe is temporarily blinded by the golden boy:

Ah know Ah can't hold no light to Otis D. Slemmons. Ah ain't never been nowhere and Ah ain't got nothin' but you. (43)

Otis is the exact opposite of Joe—from the north, a businessman with stylish clothes and lots of women— and hey, let's face it; new is exciting. For a few weeks Joe is obsessed, and wants to go to Slemmons' ice cream parlor so he can show Missie May off.

One fateful night, Joe comes back from work early and his dreams turn into wanting a baby with Missie May:
Creation obsessed him. (65)

He hurries home full of hope and love for the future and his wife. Not so fast, Mr. Joe. Unfortunately, the same night Joe realizes what he really wants out of life is when he catches Missie cheating on him with Slemmons. Joe's ego and feelings are really hurt, but perhaps it's partly his fault; after all, he planted the ideas in Missie's head that he wanted more money, right? Be careful what you wish for...

It takes a few months for Joe to lick his wounds and the situation is further complicated when he learns that Missie's pregnant. Naturally, it's not until she gives birth and his mother assures him that the boy is his can he forgive Missie and move on. At the end of the story he celebrates by going to Orlando to buy presents for his family, and when he's back home he throws silver dollars through the open door of their house. All's well that ends well.