The Gilded Six-Bits

by Zora Neale Hurston

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 716

Joe Banks
Joe Banks is Missie May's husband. Joe and Missie May are newlyweds who are demonstrably in love. Joe works the night shift at the local fertilizer plant, but he does not make very much money. When his week is over, he and Missie May enjoy a flirtatious game that begins with him rolling his pay in coins over their threshold. Their life is filled with ‘‘joyful mischief’’ and also genuine sweetness. ‘‘That was the best part of life—going home to Missie May.’’ They represent domestic harmony, each happy in his or her role and routine, until the flashy stranger Slemmons enters their life. Joe is impressed with the man's apparent wealth and his stories of success with women. He wants to show off his wife to Slemmons. When Missie May betrays Joe by having an affair with Slemmons, Joe is shocked and uncommunicative. He leaves Slemmons's gilded trinket around the house as if to remind Missie May of her failing, but when she gives birth to a son who looks just like Joe, he is able to fully forgive her. He buys her molasses kisses with the gilded coin, which represents affection and sweetness winning out over blame.

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Missie May Banks
Missie May Banks is Joe's newly wed wife. She is enraptured with her new role as his spouse and with their domestic routine. Missie May is content to take care of their modest house and looks forward each day to Joe's return. Part of the couple's rapport involves playful banter and ‘‘mock battles’’ that end with her searching his pockets for candy and trinkets. However, real conflict enters the relationship when Missie May agrees to have sexual relations with Slemmons, a pretentious outsider who promises her gold that she knows Joe admires but cannot earn. It is implied that Missie May wants the gold not for herself but for Joe. Missie May is bereaved when Joe discovers her with Slemmons, assuming he will never love her again. Joe tells Missie May not to dwell on the past, but he reminds her of her betrayal by leaving Slemmons's gilded trinket around the house. She resolves that she will stay in the marriage until Joe leaves her, which he does not do. Their domestic routine continues, but devoid of the joyful banter and affection in which they had both reveled. Joe finally forgives Missie May completely when she gives birth to a baby boy that looks just like him.

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Clerk
A white clerk waits on Joe when he goes to Orlando to buy supplies after Missie May gives birth. He asks Joe about the gilded fifty-cent piece, and Joe tells him about Slemmons, not admitting that Slemmons tricked and cuckolded him. After Joe leaves, the clerk comments to the next customer, ‘‘Wisht I could be like those darkies.’’ The clerk interprets Joe's story in terms of stereotypes about blacks being simple and happy.

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Latest answer posted September 25, 2007, 4:19 am (UTC)

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Joe's Mother
Missie May runs into Joe's mother after she has left the house, having discovered the gilded gold piece under Joe's pillow. She knows that Joe's mother doesn't like her, and the encounter reminds her of her pride and makes her resolve to keep up the ‘‘outside show’’ of her marriage. Joe's mother also attends to Missie May when she is in labor. She had not approved of the marriage, but after Missie May gives birth to Joe's son, she tells her son that he made a good choice after all.

Otis D. Slemmons
Otis D. Slemmons is a sophisticated newcomer in the small, rural, all-black community of Eatonville. He has just opened an ice-cream parlor there. Joe meets him and is impressed with his tales of seducing women and making money, while Missie May tries to boost her husband's ego by pointing out Slemmons's big gut. However, Missie May is also impressed by his ostentatious gold jewelry, wishing that she could get some for her husband. Lured by promises of gold, she agrees to have a sexual relationship with Slemmons. Only after her husband discovers them together and takes Slemmons's watch chain does Missie May realize that Slemmons is a fake, and that the gold piece he wears is nothing but a gilded fifty-cent piece. Slemmons stands for the emptiness of material wealth and the inauthenticity of big-city sophistication.

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