Throughout “The Gilded Six-Bits,” gold (or gildedness) represents the way that covetousness and deceit challenge Joe and Missie May’s marriage. In the first half of the story, both Joe and Missie May are struck by Otis D. Slemmons’ gold teeth, the gilded jewelry he wears, and the gold money he claims to have. At this point, gilded objects represent status that is beyond their reach. Indeed, Missie May comments that she has never seen gold money before, and that their only hope of owning any would be to find some accidentally. This desire for wealth and status makes Missie May vulnerable to Slemmons tempting her to sleep with him by promising her his golden watch charm—it’s only after committing adultery that she discovers the charm is fake, which reveals the emptiness of the promises of wealth and status for which she has betrayed her marriage. After Missie May realizes it is a gilded half dollar, it is simply referred to as “the coin,” and Joe carries the coin in his pocket through the second half of the story. Now that Slemmons’ deceit has come between them, the object continues to haunt the Banks’ marriage, symbolizing Missie May’s choice to pursue something fake rather than being content with the genuine good she already possessed. After she gives birth, Joe spends the coin on a large helping of candy for Missie May—the prize in the couple’s abandoned weekly game. Now, the coin represents the exchange of something false for something real. Thus the gold disappears from their lives, and with it the temptation to desire what they do not have. In its place, they resume their old game, a celebration of the goodness of their marriage—one that has been tested and, unlike Slemmons’ gold, proven genuine.
Otis Slemmons’ “Gold” Quotes in The Gilded Six Bits
“His mouf is cut cross-ways, ain’t it? Well, he kin lie jes’ lak anybody else.”
“Good Lawd, Missie! You womens sho is hard to sense into things. 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…And womens give it all to ‘im.”
There were no more Saturday romps. No ringing silver dollars to stack beside her plate. No pockets to rifle. In fact the yellow coin in his trousers was like a monster hiding in the cave of his pockets to destroy her.
Before morning, youth triumphed and Missie exulted. But the next day, as she joyfully made up their bed, beneath her pillow she found the piece of money with the bit of chain attached…She took it into her hands with trembling and saw first thing that it was no gold piece. It was a gilded half dollar.
“Hello, Joe,” the clerk greeted him. “Ain’t seen you in a long time.”
“Nope, Ah ain’t been heah. Been round in spots and places.”
“Want some of them molasses kisses you always buy?”
“Yessuh.” He threw the gilded half dollar on the counter. “Will dat spend?”