Study Guide

The Gilded Six-Bits Quotes

  • Poverty (Class)

    The front yard was parted in the middle by a sidewalk from gate to doorstep, a sidewalk edged on either side by quart bottles driven neck down into the ground on a slant. (2)

    Okay, so we know that we're in a less than luxurious neighborhood in a lower class community (Eatonville); however, the fact that Missie and Joe have a house is significant. While they're not wealthy, they've managed to save money. It's a clean, frugal house, as seen with the "quart bottles" driven into the ground as opposed to wood or some other traditional material. We like to call it "making due with what you've got."

    "She grabbed the clean mealsack at hand and dried herself hurriedly and began to dress. (7)

    We don't know about you, but we've never used any sort of sack to dry ourselves after a bath. Towels are one of those things we think of as a basic necessity, but then again, if a sack works…why not? Hurston uses these tiny details in the home to show that Missie and Joe are not rich, but still, they're not suffering. 

    "Who dat chunkin' money in mah do'way? [Missie] demanded." (10)

    Who indeed. In a kind of weird but kind of romantic tradition, every Saturday Joe throws silver dollars at the doorway for Missie May. It's a cute payday ritual and also an excuse for him to spoil her with small gifts like sweets, soap and chewing gum. Again, Hurston is a master of details; the story would have been a lot different if Joe bought Missie clothes, diamonds or gold…but who wants that stuff anyways? We'd take candy any day. 

    </em>Joe smiled pleasantly. "Yeah, he's up-to-date. He got de finest clothes Ah ever seen on a colored man's back." (39)

    Do the clothes really make the man? Joe sure seems to think so, but when we find out that Slemmons is a fraud and that he doesn't really have as much money as he says he does, we're jolted. All along, Joe has Missie May and they have a good life together. Sure, he doesn't have the clothes or the gold teeth, but by the end of the story, we (along with Joe and Missie) realize that none of those material things matter.

    "He ain't puzzlegutted, honey. He jes' got a corperation. Dat make 'm look lak a rich white man. All rich mens is got some belly on 'em."(41)

    This observation Joe makes about Slemmons is straightforward but full of complexities. What he's saying is the more you eat, the more money you have to spend…which means you're that much closer to being like a 'rich white man.' Not only does Hurston touch on class with this quote but also the complexities of race. In an age of Photoshopped models and "thin is in," it's funny to imagine that not too long ago, being out of shape was more desirable. 

    </em>Missie May was silent for a minute, and then she said, "Us might find some [money] goin' long de road some time. Us could." (59)

    After all the talk about money, Missie gets the idea that Joe is lacking. She thinks that if she finds them some money he might be happier and more satisfied. It's a nice thought, her wanting to make him happy, but the way she goes about getting that money is not the wisest of moves.

    She took it into her hands with trembling and saw first thing that it was no gold piece. It was a gilded half dollar. (101)

    Talk about a d'oh moment! Here Missie realizes that Slemmons has been fooling them all along, that his "gold piece" is actually a fake. For all her good intentions, sleeping with Slemmons may have ruined Missie's marriage with Joe, but can we totally blame her? Who, after all, was the person obsessed with the man and the money in the first place? That's right; it was Joe.

    "Offen a stray nigger dat come through Eatonville. He had it on his watch chain for a charm--goin' round making out is gold money." (130).

    Here, Joe is talking with a white clerk in Orlando, explaining how he got the gilded six bits. His tune has changed quite a bit about Slemmons calling him a 'stray nigger' and implying that he always knew he was a fraud. Hindsight is always 20/20. 

    "Gimme fifty cents worth of dem candy kisses." (132)

    When Joe buys candy kisses for Missie at the end of the story, we know the couple will stay together. Sure, Joe's using Slemmons' money to buy the kisses, but there's no point in wasting it, right? Joe's taking control of his life again and shows us that he's got the dough <em>and</em> the woman. 

    "Joe Banks, Ah hear you chunkin' money in mah do'way. You wait till Ah got mah strength back and Ah'm gointer fix you for dat." (137)

    This is the last phrase of the story and a powerful image. We've come full circle, from starting with a lovey-dovey couple, then a big separation, and ending it all with Joe chucking money at Missie. It shows that they've put all their marital problems behind them and are moving forward with their new family of three. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a financially motivated affair...and<em> then </em>comes a baby in a baby carriage.<em></em>

  • Marriage

    "A mess of homey flowers planted without a plan but blooming cheerily from their helter-skelter places. The fence and house were whitewashed." (2)

    Home is where the heart is, and the house of Missie and Joe is a mixture of crazy and put together. There seems to be a real ying and yang quality to the place, as well as the couple themselves. Hurston uses the details of the house as a sort of foreshadowing into the couple that lives inside.

    </em>"Humph! Ah'm way behind time t'day! Joe gointer be heah 'fore Ah git mah clothes on if Ah don't make haste."(6)

    Well, this is a good sign, right? Missie's just finished her bath and rushes to make sure she's ready for her husband's arrival at the house. The fact that she times her cleaning to coincide with his arrival means she wants to look good for him and that he's important to her. 

    But she knew that it was her husband throwing silver dollars in the door for her to pick up and pile beside her plate at dinner. (8)

    Aww, that's cute. Well, maybe not as cute as the hidden gifts in Joe's pockets, but still, we like the adult version of cat and mouse they play together every time Joe gets paid. He makes the money but he likes to spend it on her; it's like her birthday every week!

    For several minutes the two were a furious mass of male and female energy. Shouting, laughing, twisting, turning, tussling, tickling each other in the ribs; (11)

    Now here's something you don't see adults do every day. Hurston does a nice job showing how the two adults have a fresh, young love that most of us lose as we get older. It's also a light contrast to how they'll act later on in the story, when things get more serious and dark.

    </em>Joe smiled indulgently and let his wife go through all of his pockets and take out the things that he had hidden for her to find. (19)

    Both Joe and Missie love this game, and it shows in the joy they give each other. Of course, their love isn't based solely on little gifts but on the fun banter and horseplay they share. The ritual is what makes it pleasurable and it's a day they both look forward to every week. We'll admit, we're a little jealous at the love these two share. 

    </em>"Ah'm a real wife, not no dress and breath. Ah might not look lak one, but if you burn me, you won't git a thing but wife ashes." (23)

    Zing! Missie says this to Joe in jest after he tells her to have dinner waiting for him after his bath. It's a saucy comment with a little bite to it, and when Missie cheats on Joe later on in the story it takes on a new, ironic meaning. It isn't Missie who gets burned—it's Joe. 

    "Youse a pritty man, and if Ah knowed any way to make you mo' pritty still Ah'd take and do it." (42)

    Missie says this to Joe and we totally believe her. Up until she meets Slemmons, she thinks Joe is the perfect man and husband. She compliments his looks, his figure, and shows her devotion by keeping house and making delicious meals. She's also super concerned for his happiness, which is why she sleeps with Slemmons in the first place, to get money for Joe. At least, that's what she says. Do we believe her? The jury's still out for us, but what do you think? 

    Joe laughed and hugged her. "Don't be so wishful 'bout me. Ah'm satisfied de way Ah is. So long as Ah be yo' husband. Ah don't keer 'bout nothin' else." (62)

    Umm, talk about mixed signals. Joe's the one who can't stop talking about Slemmons and his clothes, money, women, and gold teeth—but when Missie tells him they could have money, too, he changes his tune and says he's "satisfied." Guess he didn't realize how serious Missie would take his desire to be a rich, important man?

    It made him yearn painfully for Missie. Creation obsessed him. He thought about children. (65)

    We think it's pretty cool that in this story it's the man who wants the baby. Joe's ready to settle down and start a family with Missie, to the point of being 'obsessed' with the idea. He's definitely not a typical macho guy and we like this softer side of Joe. It's a nice way for Hurston to flip traditional gender roles. 

    Missie knew why she didn't leave Joe. She couldn't. She loved him too much, but she could not understand why Joe didn't leave her. (97)

    This is what Missie thinks soon after she cheats on Joe with Slemmons. She knows she made an awful mistake and that it would make complete sense for Joe to leave her…but he doesn't. Why, we wonder? Does he feel slightly guilty for maybe pushing her away? Or does he just not want to let her go? Love sure can be a complicated at times. 

  • Betrayal

    "Ah don't see whut de womens see on [Slemmons]. Ah wouldn't give 'im a wink if de sheriff wuz after 'im." (49)

    Ironically, this statement comes from Missie—the very person who sleeps with Slemmons later on in the story. Everything she says, up until the point she gets caught, is anti-Slemmons and pro-Joe. We guess in this case, actions really do speak louder than words. 

    </em>"[Slemmons] got mo' lady people crazy 'bout him than he kin shake a stick at." (52)

    Joe makes this observation about Slemmons. If you ask us, we'd be willing to bet Slemmons is so popular with the 'lady people' because of his money. Thanks to Joe's frequent blabbing about Slemmons, we know he's a playboy and a smooth talker—that's partly why he got the attention of Missie May.

    "But he sho is got uh heap uh gold on 'im. Dat's de first time Ah ever seed gold money. It looked good on him sho nuff, but it'd look a whole heap better on you." (57)

    Missie is star (gold) struck! Before she sees Slemmons in the ice cream parlor, she thinks he's nothing special. We can tell she's changing her mind when she sees his gold money; that might be why she compliments Joe by saying the gold would look better on him. She might be trying to focus her attention back on her husband after being momentarily distracted by another man. We're pretty sure this is some classic foreshadowing in action right here. 

    </em>There was a quick, large movement in the bedroom. A rustle, a thud, and a stealthy silence. The light went out. (69)

    Hmm, something's fishy in the Joe and Missie household. Joe's first thought when he gets home early from work is that there's a thief in his house, but it turns out to be none other than Slemmons. This is the first real uh-oh moment of the story, the point when Missie and Joe's marriage is no longer just fun and games.

    A howling wind raced across his heart, but underneath its fury he heard his wife sobbing and Slemmons pleading for his life. (72)

    The story turns significantly darker as poor Joe is shocked into the realization that his life will never be the same again—or at least not for a long time. After being so happy and thinking about having a baby with Missie, this is a pretty tough moment for Joe as a husband and a man. Talk about a 180-degree turn; poor guy. 

    </em>"Cause Ah love you so hard and Ah know you don't love me no mo'." (79)

    When Missie says this to Joe she's sure that he will never forgive her betrayal and that their marriage is doomed. It's not a crazy thought, either; after all, she did cheat on Joe in their own bed. Still, Hurston keeps us guessing about their fate right until the very end.

    "Oh Joe, honey, he said he wuz gointer give me dat gold money and he jes' kept on after me—." (81)

    Yeah, we're not sure this reason makes it all good. Sure, Missie claims she slept with Slemmons to get money for both Joe and herself, but couldn't she have done it in a less hurtful way? Like, maybe by getting a job, or cutting back on sweet potatoes and ice cream? Just a thought.

    Presently Joe said calmly, "Missie May, you cry too much. Don't look back lak Lot's wife and turn to salt." (95)

    In the book of Genesis, Lot and his wife are told by angels not to look back at their hometown, Sodom, as they escape from danger. Lot's wife, of course, looks back and turns into a pillar of salt. This is a warning by Joe to Missie not to live in the past, to move on and stop crying so much. Good advice, but easier said than done. 

    Missie knew why she didn't leave Joe. She couldn't. She loved him too much, but she could not understand why Joe didn't leave her. (97)

    Despite cheating on Joe, Missie's still head over heels for the man. In fact, we're willing to bet she's even more in love now, having realized the awful mistake she's made. 

    She often wondered if he still had [the coin], but nothing could have induced her to ask nor yet to explore his pockets to see for herself. Its shadow was in the house whether or not. (99)

    The gilded six bits is not only the title of the story, but the reason for the crisis in Missie and Joe's marriage. It's a false symbol of affluence, of a better life, when all along they were happy and not wanting of anything. Money leads to betrayal, and the near ruin of a perfectly happy marriage. 

  • Repentance/Forgiveness

    "You don't know de feelings of dat yet, Missie May." (80)

    This is what Joe says to Missie when they're in bed together after she sleeps with Slemmons. She can't stop crying and thinks Joe will leave her because of her infidelity. Her crying shows that she feels bad, and Joe's ambiguous response to whether he loves her anymore or not ups the tension.

    "Missie May, ain't you gonna fix me no breakfus'?" (86).

    We see a glimmer of hope that Joe may forgive Missie when he asks for breakfast the next day. She, like us, doesn't expect him to stick around so when he asks for breakfast it seems like a good sign. 

    She didn't deserve a thing and good Joe was letting her cook him some breakfast. (89)

    It's pretty obvious that Missie is feeling pretty darn low. All of a sudden the couple has been separated into bad and good, faithful and unfaithful and she doesn't feel worthy enough to make Joe breakfast…but since he's "letting" her cook for him, she jumps at the chance. Anything to get back in good standing with her hubby.

    </em>"Ah don't choose none, Ah thank yuh." (92)

    This is during breakfast, the day after the affair between Missie and Slemmons. As part of her repentance, Missie refuses to eat the food she cooks for Joe, demonstrating her devotion to him. Compared to how she eats at the beginning of the story (voraciously and with gusto) we know this truly is a sacrifice for her.

    </em>It had been three months since Missie had touched [Joe's] body and it all seemed strange. But she rubbed him. Grateful for the chance. (100)

    Again, Missie's thoughts reveal the anguish she's going through. She feels like she deserves nothing from Joe and is grateful for any attention from him. Under the guise of a massage she's able to ease his physical pain and somewhat ease her guilt.

    </em>She was glad at first that Joe had left it there. Perhaps he was through with her punishment. They were man and wife again. (102)

    Here, Missie finds Slemmons' gold piece and realizes for the first time that it is actually a gilded half dollar. Adding insult to injury, this means she slept with Slemmons for a paltry fee. Her first thought when she sees it on her bed? That it's a peace offering from Joe. Right, in a perfect world.

    If she had not the substance of marriage she had the outside show. Joe must leave her. (103)

    After going through hell, feeling guilty and horrible, Missie comes to the conclusion that she must stay with Joe no matter what. In her view, it's better to appear happily married than being alone for the rest of her life. The question is, will Joe leave her?

    Missie May was delivered of a fine boy. (116)

    A brand new baby, a brand new family, and a brand new start. With the birth of Missie and Joe's child, everything seems to go back to normal. Not only are they parents now, they've been through bad and good times and have learned an important lesson about what's really important in life: love. And forgiveness, of course. 

    "You oughter be mighty proud cause he sho is de spittin' image of yuh, son." (121)

    Joe's mother reassures him that Missie's kid is his and not Slemmons', which was a scary and very real possibility. This is the point where Joe finally forgives Missie and decides to let the past go, and to take his own advice about not looking back like Lot's wife.

    "Joe Banks, Ah hear you chunkin' money in mah do'way. You wait till Ah got mah strength back and Ah'm gointer fix you for dat." (137)

    This is the last line of the story, ending on a happy note. Once again Joe will spoil Missie by giving her money and gifts. He's chosen the path of forgiveness and because of that Missie no longer has to be a meek version of herself.