The Gilded Six-Bits | Study Guide

Zora Neale Hurston

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The Gilded Six-Bits | Symbols


The Gilded Four Bits

The gilded four-bit piece—a 50-cent piece covered with gold—represents the mistake that Missie May made as well as the anger that Joe holds on to after he discovers Missie May's affair with Otis D. Slemmons. When Joe finds Missie May and Slemmons together, Joe grabs the man and punches him. As Slemmons runs away, Joe realizes that he has accidentally pulled the coin off of Slemmons' vest. Missie May admits that she agreed to have sexual intercourse with Slemmons because he promised to give her "dat gold money." As Joe emotionally and physically withdraws from Missie May, he holds on to the "gold" coin. Then, when he returns to a sexual relationship with Missie May, Joe leaves the coin on the dresser as if he were paying, just like Slemmons had promised to do.

As Joe passes the coin to Missie May, he passes her an insult and the opportunity to return his anger. Missie May returns the coin and does not accept the anger. Moreover, seeing that the coin was gilded rather than solid gold, Missie May realizes the depth of her mistake. For Missie May, the coin represents her error in being tempted by the external appearance of wealth that Slemmons offered, instead of the wealth of love and loyalty that she already possessed with Joe.

With the coin back in his pocket, Joe remains angry at Missie May until she delivers a baby boy who, his mother proclaims, looks just like Joe. With the arrival of a baby that is truly his (not Slemmons'), Joe is finally able to move past Missie May's mistake. He releases his anger at the same time that he releases the gilded four bits: he uses it to buy molasses candy kisses to resume his weekly shows of affection for his wife.

The Play-Fight and the Molasses Candy Kisses

The play-fight and the molasses candy kisses represent Joe's love for Missie May. In the beginning of the short story Joe returns home from work on Saturday and performs his affectionate weekly ritual; he throws his weekly pay in the door, and Missie May chases him, catches him, and rifles through his pockets to find gifts, including candy kisses. The play-fight is a weekly reminder of the love that they share, and it reflects the status of their marriage because it requires participation from both Missie May and Joe.

When Joe becomes angry with Missie May, he stops going to the market to buy the gifts. He does not throw his pay in the front door and wait for Missie May to chase him. He withdraws from the ritual as much as he withdraws from the marriage. It is not until Missie May gives birth to his son that Joe is finally able to forgive Missie May. He exchanges the gilded four-bit piece that he ripped from Otis D. Slemmons for 50-cents' worth of molasses candy kisses for Missie May and his baby. When he returns home, he throws his money in the door, resuming the ritual and communicating to Missie May that he is, once again, an active partner in their marriage.

Otis D. Slemmons

Otis D. Slemmons represents temptation and greed to both Joe and Missie May. When Joe first describes Slemmons to Missie May, he is envious of the man's appearance of wealth. He compares himself to Otis D. Slemmons and finds himself lacking in wealth, in worldliness, in everything except his wife, whom Joe thinks is better than any of the women Slemmons brags about. Missie May disagrees, saying that she prefers Joe in every way. Once she meets Slemmons, she thinks about how gold money looked good on him, but she would prefer to see it on Joe. The only thing Missie May likes about Slemmons is his money. When his "gold" money turns out to be simply gilded—regular coins plated with gold—both Missie May and Joe realize that they have been fooled by appearances. They were both tempted by wealth, and both came to realize that their love and marriage are worth more than wealth and its external trappings.

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