Money, Love and the Power of Forgiveness in "The Gilded Six-bit"
We grow up hearing the grass is always greener on the other side of the hill because things look better from a distance. This is a cliche but far too many times, it is true. We are prone to become complacent in our surroundings and want for something more even if we are not sure that what we want is actually better for us. Zora Neale Hurston's short story, "The Gilded Six-bits" is a story that explores such a circumstance. Our society is one that focuses on material things and this makes it extremely difficult to determine the basis of happiness. When we are bombarded with messages from the television and the Internet, encouraging us to buy this or making us feel as though we must have more of that, we can be brainwashed if we are not careful. It is extremely easy to think that money and happiness are synonymous in today's society. Additionally, we are led to believe if we have more things, we will be comfortable and happy. May and Joe represent on a smaller scale how people can be fooled by what they think they want. They learn that life is full of tricksters and they learn the value of what actually matters in this world. The story is true to life in that is takes a painful transgression to realize what is important to their marriage. "The Gilded Six-bits" is a tale of love lost and rediscovered through the power of forgiveness.
Neale begins this story with the couple enjoying contentment. It is important to see them happy within their setting even though it lacks many comforts of materialism. They shower each other with affection and are genuinely happy with one another. Joe tells his wife, "Ah'm satisfied de way Ah is. So long as Ah be yo husband" (Hurston 1548) and we also know that going home to May is the best part of Joe's life. The two have fun and play with each other in a way that is special and tender, even though they cannot see the importance of this. They do not need money for happiness. Their love is real and it is not dependent upon how much they have. In fact, it is strong despite of what they do not have. This strength becomes important as the story progresses because it saves their marriage and carries them through a difficult time. However, as with many people, May and Joe are not quite aware of what they have and think more money and nice things will improve upon it. In short, May and Joe believe more money will bring them more happiness. They are happy but Joe believes they could be happy with more. This notion first emerges when he expresses a desire to be like Slemmons. "All de womens is crazy 'bout 'im everywhere he go" (Neale 1547). Here we see how Joe knows that money attracts people, especially women. May's doubt prompts him to say, "He's got a five-dollar gold piece for a stickpin and he got a ten-dollar gold piece on his watch chain and his mouf is jes' crammed full of gold teeths. Sho wisht it wuz mine" (1547-8). Joe attaches a person's worth to his or her amount of money. He thinks if he has money, everyone will like him and he will be happy. Joe fantasizes about being like Slemmons. As the couple dresses for a trip to the ice cream store, he "spent the time trying to make his stomach punch out like Slemmons's middle. He tried the rolling swagger of the stranger, but found that his tall bone-and-muslce stride fitted ill with it" (1548). Joe wants Slemmons' look because he associates that with success and the happiness Slemmons seems to have. May and Joe do what many people do; they associate more wealth with a better quality of life.
Many believe money will make things better. Unwittingly, May encourages Joe's thinking with comments like, "He sho' is got uh heap uh gold on 'im. Dat's de first time Ah ever seen gold money. It lookted good on him sho nuff, but it'd look a whole heap better on you" (1548). She begins to dream about what life might be like to have more money. She tells Joe, "Us might find some goin' long de road some time. Us could (1548). Here we can see how the couple fantasizes about money. They are normal in that they think of how some aspects of their life would improve. Joe dreams about what it might be like to look like Slemmons and May dreams of finding gold. While it is true that money relieves some of the stress involved with life, it will not make happiness suddenly appear. May and Joe fall victim to the notion that it will. Nancy Chinn notes that May and Joe "allows corrupt desires to replace their innocent acceptance of their native cultural values" (Chinn). She maintains that Hurston is pointing to the "fallacy of asking the wrong questions and drawing the wrong conclusions" (Chinn). May and Joe are not the only ones attaching a great deal of importance to money. As Slemmons is pleading for his life, he tells Joe, "Please, suh, don't kill me. Sixty-two dollars at de sto'. Gold money" (Hurston 1549). Here Slemmons is attaching a price to his life. Slemmons does not attempt to fight Joe with his fists, but uses what he think s will convince Joe to let him live. Slemmons also knows that those with less usually want more. Here we see an interesting scene between the have and the have not. It seems the rich Slemmons thinks he can buy anything, In fact, it is safe to assume that he has used his money and clout to get himself out of tight situations before. Money has made some things easier for Slemmons but it has not improved his life the way it appears to have done.
Hurston does not allow the marriage to fall apart but rather brings it through a period of reconciliation to illustrate the importance of love over money and material things. Chinn asserts that May and Joe "could not avoid meeting Slemmons" (Chinn), Chinn notes, but "resulting moral confusion did not mean that all was lost" (Chinn). Beginning again is the first step toward healing and they can only make it to this point because their love was strong before the incident occurred. This is the kind of love that money cannot buy and May and Joe had to learn this lesson the hard way. They also learn about their roles and the importance of them. Sarah Hardy writes, "When Slemmons offers Missie May gold in exchange for sex, she steps outside of her cherished role as a 'real wife,' not only in that she is unfaithful to her husband but in that she attempts to take over Joe's own cherished role as the family breadwinner" (Hardy). This does double damage because Slemmons is encouraging May to release herself from depending upon Joe, which essentially strips him of his manhood. This upsets their roles in the marriage, states Hardy, and makes it nearly impossible for them to celebrate their marriage as they once had. Only when things return to their natural state, does the marriage begin to feel real again. Mo amount of money could have restored this to the marriage.
The story brings into focus what actually matters in life. The money and the power that seem to go along with it are "elusive" (Jones), according to Evora Jones. The simple life Joe and May lived are "desirable and attainable" (Jones). This simple life is meaningful only to those that are living it and not those on the outside looking in, claims Jones. This is illustrated with the clerk's estimation that nothing worries those like May and Joe. What he does not see, states Jones, is the "true pulse of simplicity, serenity, and peace of mind inherent in the rural life of Joe and Missie May. The real pulse of simplicity is feeling -- experience -- sublimity" (Jones). The couple may seem to have less but they might actually have more because they are content with less. Their marriage before Slemmons enters is actually what every couple should envy. The couple, however, loses sight of what matters and once their eyes see gold, they think they can improve their existence. The danger with this kind of thinking is that it sometimes leads to a sort of corruption or compromise. People feel a small compromise will not hurt them but they are fooled by believing that compromising will not affect them. Such is the case with Slemmons, who "seems to have realized everyone's dreams" (Howard), asserts Lillie Howard. However, the appearance of things can be misleading. Slemmons captures May with his "gold" and she soon learns that the grass is greener on the other side of the…