The Gilded Six Bits


Zora Neale Hurston

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The Gilded Six Bits Study Guide

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Brief Biography of Zora Neale Hurston

Although she was born in Alabama, Hurston’s family moved to Eatonville, Florida—the first all-black town to incorporate in the United States—when she was a small child. She considered Eatonville her hometown and used it as a setting for many of her stories. She had a relatively happy childhood until the death of her mother in 1904, after which she held a variety of odd jobs and eventually joined a Gilbert and Sullivan traveling company as a maid. Hurston earned an associate degree from Howard University in 1924 and moved to New York City, where she met a number of major authors from the Harlem Renaissance, including Langston Hughes. She began to publish short stories in various periodicals and to study anthropology at Barnard College. Hurston studied under renowned anthropologist Franz Boaz and became the first black woman to graduate from Barnard in 1928. She would go on to use her anthropological training in collecting African American folklore in the South. Hurston was married three times, with her first two marriages ending in divorce. She published a variety of fiction and nonfiction writings over the course of her life, most famously her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Hurston continued to write, teach, and collect folklore, winning prestigious awards such as the Guggenheim for her research. In her later years, however, she suffered a number of personal and financial difficulties, ultimately dying in poverty in 1960.
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Historical Context of The Gilded Six Bits

In 1887, Hurston’s hometown of Eatonville, Florida, had become one of the first all-black towns to be incorporated in the United States. Growing up in Eatonville strongly influenced Hurston’s outlook and writing career. Hurston lived during the era of Jim Crow segregation in the Southern United States, when African-Americans’ civil and political rights were extremely limited. Hurston did not identify herself with the emerging Civil Rights struggle or associate her writing with that movement. She was opposed to segregation, but also opposed some policies intended to mitigate it, such as the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education. She argued that the closure of black schools would hinder the passing down of African-American cultural traditions and would not result in better education for black students.

Other Books Related to The Gilded Six Bits

Hurston wrote during the Harlem Renaissance, an African-American cultural revival which flowered during the 1920s. Other writers associated with this movement include Langston Hughes, Wallace Thurman, and Alain Locke. Hurston’s literary approaches and themes were less political than those of many other Harlem Renaissance writers. Joy in everyday life, pride in one’s culture, and anti-materialism are recurrent themes in her writing—themes that she viewed as more effective in resisting oppression than focusing directly on discrimination or poverty. She also championed the use of African-American vernacular in her writings. Love, betrayal, morality, and justice are frequent themes in Hurston’s fiction, such as the short story “Spunk” (1925), about the violent conflict between Spunk Banks and his lover’s husband, and “Sweat” (1926), which focuses on a woman’s escape from her adulterous and abusive husband. Another Depression-era short story about marriage is Sinclair Ross’ 1939 “The Painted Door,” about a rural Canadian couple touched by infidelity. Kate Chopin’s “The Storm” (written 1898) features a Southern woman who has a brief affair in the midst of an otherwise happy marriage.
Key Facts about The Gilded Six Bits
  • Full Title: “The Gilded Six-Bits”
  • When Written: 1933
  • When Published: 1933
  • Literary Period: Harlem Renaissance
  • Genre: Short fiction
  • Setting: Eatonville, Florida, United States
  • Climax: Joe’s discovery of Missie May’s infidelity
  • Antagonist: Otis D. Slemmons
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient

Extra Credit for The Gilded Six Bits

Belatedly Honored. In her 1975 Ms. magazine article, “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston,” novelist Alice Walker helped revive interest in Hurston’s life and career. She located an unmarked grave she believed was Hurston’s and provided a marker honoring Hurston as “A Genius of the South.”

Posthumous Publication. Hurston’s nonfiction book, Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” was published in 2018. It records Hurston’s 1927 interviews with Cudjo Lewis, the last known survivor of the Atlantic slave trade. Hurston could not find a publisher for the book at the time, in part because she insisted on preserving Lewis’ vernacular speech within the narrative.