The Gilded Six-Bits was written by Zora Neale Hurston, an influential author during the Harlem Renaissance. This fictional story depicts a couple at the peak of the “Limerence” (Marshall, 7-18) phase of their relationship, before it is tested through the course of the story. Limerence is a new term that describes the early phase of falling in love; sex is seldom the man focus. The marriage in this story is an appropriate example of problems that we are faced with in marriages and relationships today. The subject of what love can withstand is raised in this story. This story of a marriage that goes through a very arduous circumstance, applies to all relationships that face infidelity and the choices we have to make following an injustice done to us. This story of love falls under the “good” category of love, because of what was overcome despite the circumstances. Even though working through the strenuous situation was not easy, in the end, the couple not only remained married. The ending of the story even leads us to believe that there may have been a happy ending in the aftermath of the situation, in spite of the betrayal. This is a story that can give hope to many people in a romantic relationship and have been betrayed. The Latin phrase, “Amor Vincent Omnia,” which translates love conquers all, is proven to be true in this story.
The story opens with a description of a house that is tidy and taken care of by the owners, “Everything clean from the gate to the privy house.” (Delbanco, 284) This visualization of a house taken care of by the owners gives the reader a warm feeling as we meet the main characters of the story. An African American couple that is merrily married. They are still playing, flirting, there is even joyful banter that the couple engages in. “Shouting, laughing, twisting, turning, tussling, tickling each other in the ribs; Missie May clutching onto Joe and Joe trying, but not too hard to get away.” (Delbanco, 284) This young couple even shows affection at the dinner table, “Very little talk during the meal but that little consisted of banter that pretended to deny affection but in reality flaunted it.” (Delbanco, 285) It gives Missie May great pleasure to serve her husband not only on the dinner table, but cleaning the house and having his clothes laying for him on the bed; ready for Joe to come in, wash up and put on some fresh clothes after work. Although they do not have much, Joe shows her affection small gifts, “Joe smiled indulgently and let his wife go through all his pockets and take out the things that he had hidden there for her to find.” (Delbanco, 285) The strong affection towards each other is mutual, they only have eyes for each other. Missie May tells her husband, “Ah’m satisfied wid you jes’ lak you is, baby. God took pattern after a pine tree and built you noble. Youse a pritty man.” (Delbanco, 286) Joe reciprocates this love, “He talkin’ ‘bout his pretty womens-Ah want ‘im to see mine.” (Delbanco, 286) So proud of his beautiful wife, Joe wants to take her to new ice cream parlor in town, to show her off to a man that Joe seems to admire and respect. “Mister Otis D. Slemmons, of spots and places- Memphis, Chicago, Jacksonville, Philadelphia and so on.” (Delbanco, 285) Joe also shares with his wife, “He got de finest clothes Ah ever seen on a colored man’s back.”
Mr. Otis D. Slemmons, is a well-dressed African American, who is new to the area where he opens up an ice cream parlor. The façade he displays is that he is a wealthy man, as shown by his adornments. Joe describes Mr. Slemmons to his wife, “He’s got a five-dollar gold piece for a stick-pin and he got a ten-dollar gold piece on his watch chain and his mouf is jes’ crammed full of gold teethes.” (Delbanco, 286) Joe proceeds to tell his wife, “Well, he tole us how de white womens in Chicago give ‘im all dat gold money. So he don’t ‘low nobody to touch it at all. Not even put dey finger on it. You kin make ‘miration at it, but don’t tetch it.” (Delbanco, 286) The romance between Joe and Missie May hits a difficult obstacle with the introduction of this slimy character, who proceeds to have an affair with Missie May. When he is caught by Joe, Mr. Slemmons pleads for his life, “Please, suh, don’t kill me. Sixty-two dollars at the sto’. Gold money.” (Delbanco, 287) This act gives us the first insight into the type of man Mr. Slemmons really is. Joe’s response to the situation is also an interesting to note, he was caught off guard, his initial response to the noise upstairs was that, “ some varmint was attacking his helpless wife.” (Delbanco, 287) When Joe gets to the bedroom, “The great belt on the wheel of Time slipped and eternity stood still.” (Delbanco, 287) The text goes on to speak about Joe’s reaction saying, “He was assaulted in his weakness. Like Samson awakening after his haircut. So he just opened his mouth and laughed.” (Delbanco, 287) Joe is standing between Mr. Slemmons and the doorway, and while Joe’s initial reaction was bizarre, Mr. Slemmons considers what to do in the situation. “He considered a surprise attack upon the big clown that stood there laughing like a chessy cat. But before his fist could travel an inch, Joe’s own rushed out to crush him like a battering ram. Then Joe stood over him. ‘Git into yo’ damn rags, Slemmons, and dat quick.’ Slemmons scrambled to his feet and into his vest and coat. As he grabbed his hat, Joe’s fury overrode his intentions as he grabbed at Slemmons with his left hand and struck at him with his right.” (Delbanco, 287) Joe then beats Mr. Slemmons into the kitchen, where he finally escapes through the open kitchen door. “Joe found himself alone with Missie May, with the golden watch charm clutched in his left fist. A short bit of broken chain dangled between his fingers.” (Delbanco, 287) In Joe’s rage, he had taken the gold piece off of Mr. Slemmons wrist. The blooming relationship that was between this young husband and wife has now hit a huge barrier. This barrier is one that too many couples are faced with today. According to the Associated Press, Percent of marriages where one or both spouses admit to infidelity, either physical or emotional is 41%. (“ Infidelity Statistics”)
Missie May is devastated at the circumstances, crying and sobbing. After getting in bed Joe asks his wife, “Missie May, what you cryin’ for?” (Delbanco, 287) Her response is, “Cause Ah love you so hard and Ah know you don’t love me no mo.” (Delbanco, 287) The question is raised, if Missie May loved Joe so ardently, how could she have an affair? Missie May answers this question, “Oh Joe, honey, he said he wuz gointer give me dat gold money and he jes’ kept on after me-“ (Delbanco, 287) “Joe was very still and silent for a long time. Then he said, ‘Well, don’t cry no mo’. Missie May. Ah got yo’ gold piece for you.’” (Delbanco, 288) The next morning, Missie May feels like she is lying next to a stranger, embarrassed by the ordeal, she doesn’t even feel comfortable enough to get out of bed. Before it had been her pleasure to serve her husband, but now she doesn’t even get up to get starch her husband’s pants for work, much less make him breakfast. She feels at this point that her marriage is over, that is, until Joe asks her whether she was going to fix him any breakfast. “She sprang out of bed.” (Delbanco, 288) She rushed to make him breakfast, the second his coffee cup was empty she refilled it. Joe on the other hand, “He ate with his eyes in his plate. No laughter, no banter.” (Delbanco, 288) There is no longer the flirtatious vibe between this young couple as we had seen earlier in the story.
There is no doubt that Missie May is mortified, continually contemplating what she should do. Until one day, “He asked Missie May to rub him down with liniment. It had been three months since Missie May had touched his body and it all seemed strange. But she rubbed him. Grateful for the chance.” (Delbanco, 288) Missie May, now had hope, and as she was under the impression that they would once again live as the husband and wife they used to be. The next morning as she was making their bed, beneath her pillow she found the gold piece. Upon inspection, “She took it into her hands with trembling and saw first thing that it was no gold piece. It was a gilded half dollar. Then she knew why Slemmons had forbidden anyone to touch his gold.” (Delbanco, 288) This is the moment where she realizes what a fraud Mr. Slemmons is, but more importantly she discovers what she really gave herself for. She contemplates leaving, because it may have been Joe’s way of paying her for her services, as Mr. Slemmons had stated was his intention. However, “Halfway between her house and the quarters she met her husband’s mother, and after a short talk she turned and went back home. Never would she admit defeat to that woman who prayed for it nightly. If she had not the substance of marriage she had the outside show…She let him see she didn’t want his gold four-bits too.” (Delbanco, 288) Missie May’s declaration with this action shows that she is not willing to give up in the marriage or in the facade of a marriage.
Six months after this incidence, more importantly nine months following the affair, Missie May delivers a baby boy. Joe’s mother, who had been called to help Missie May tells him, “You oughter be mighty proud cause he sho is de spittin’ image of yuh, son.” (Delbanco, 289) This is the turning point for our young couple, as Joe takes the wretched gilded half dollar and does something, resembling the acts of love he displayed in the beginning of the story. When Joe goes to the candy store and presents the gilded half dollar to the clerk, he also shares the story of the fraud that wore it. When the clerk asks him if he would rather buy more than chocolate molasses kisses, and maybe some chocolate bars too, after all that would be a lot of candy kisses. Joe responds, “ Ah wants all dat in kisses. Ah got a lil boy chile back home now. Tain’t a week old yet, but he kin suck a sugar tit and maybe eat one them kisses hisself.” (Delbanco, 289) After he returns home that evening, “ There was the ring of singing metal on wood. Fifteen times. Missie May couldn’t run to the door, but she crept there as quickly as she could. ‘Joe Banks, Ah hear you chinkin’ money in mah do’way. You wait till Ah got mah strength back and Ah’m gointer fix you for dat.” (Delbanco, 289) With this finale, there is hope exhibited, not only by Joe but Missie May as well. As she crept to the door, so too will their relationship slowly but surely heal.
According to the Associated Press, Percent of men who admit to committing infidelity in any relationship they’ve had is 57%; Percentage of women who admit to committing infidelity in any relationship they’ve had is 54%. (“Infidelity Statistics”) The fact is that hardly anyone is a stranger to this type of situation. Many of us have either experienced, or know of someone who has be cheated on. However, this couple staying together through this, and now with a child is something to be admired. We can consider the time period, but the reality is that these are still problems that relationships are faced with today. Why is it that our divorce rate is so much higher today than it was then, when we obviously face some of the same types of problems? The mentality that we have grown up with is that anyone is expendable. Many of the generations past experienced great distress during events like The Great Depression, and World War II; yet their divorce rates were significantly lower. The fruits of a committed marriage are absolutely uncontested. They are happier and more fulfilled, why do we think we can be happy by just walking away. I am by no means saying that walking away is easy, and of course there are exceptions because no one should be in an abusive relationship. However, what about the ones that have an opportunity to work it out because the one who fell short was truly grieved by the harm they caused the other person. That is why I categorized this story, this relationship, this marriage under the category of a “good” love. They stuck it out, worked through it and pressed on. With the finale, we see hope that their love could possibly turn back to what it once was. There was hope, and there is hope for the rest of us too, if we choose to take it. You cannot dictate how your emotions or how you feel; but you can control the choices you make and how you choose to handle a situation.
"Harlem Renaissance (American Literature and Art)." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2013.
Marshall, Andrew G. "What Is Love, Anyway?" I Love You, but -- I'm Not in Love with You: Seven Steps to Putting the Passion Back into Your Relationship. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, 2007. Print.
"Infidelity Statistics." Statistic Brain RSS. Associated Press, Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 8 Sept. 2013. Web. 05 Nov. 2013.
Delbanco, Nicholas, and Alan Cheuse. "The Gilded Six-Bits." Literature: Craft and Voice. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012. 284-89. Print.