Study Guide

Missie May in The Gilded Six-Bits

By Zora Neale Hurston

Missie May

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. (4)

Talk about steamy. 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!