Reading Hurston's "The Guilded Six-Bits"
A Story Club Response Excercise
First read for pleasure
I had to go find another text of this story since the one lined to was full of ads and movie pictures, way too distracting for me to read. For a clean pdf see "The Gilded Six-Bits"
Then lightly note where your reading energy changes, says Saunders.
Soon as I read about them going to the ice cream parlor with this man they are talking about, heavy-set, gold pins and coins seeming to drip from him, probably trouble ahead with this place, this going out of their seemingly perfectly happy home and life.
Little surprises, thrills, resistances you experience
Descriptions of the place and surrounding area - “the quart bottles driven neck down into the ground at a slant” Never heard of that kind of front walk landscaping, must be a southern or a “Negro yard” kind of thing. Whatever. Its fits just right in place with the scrubbed sense of place, of the small house being kept in the best way possible with a great amount of pride and satisfaction in making a\the place just right. What could possibly go wrong?
Expectations that arise, what did author do with those expectations
What could go wrong are hundreds of possibilities related to their first visit to get ice cream and their separate reactions to what they find there. Joe, so smitten by the big man’s appearance, so taken in by the gold teeth, gold watch, golden coins dangling from the man. Missie May is skeptical, not so taken in, but thinks she and Joe might find some gold along the way. so now I expect something will happen in a quest for gold.
Get this pattern in your mind, loosely, then read again
Pattern is: Life of happy young couple threatened by lure of apparent riches. Or is that the theme? Pattern is that things could go really wrong, but people endure so it does not. Joe could have killed Slemmons, or Joe could have left his wife, or Missie May could have left her home, or the baby might not look at all like Joe, and the mother-in-law who never liked Joe’s wife in the first place might spoil everything. The pattern is that despite all this awful possibilities, they stick it out and come together as a family with the help of the mother who assures Joe that the baby looks just like him, when the baby’s appearance is never mentioned in the story.
See what else you notice, assume what you notice has value
.. dying dawn saw him hustling home around the lake, where the challenging sun flung a flaming sword from east to west across the trembling water.
The great belt on the wheel of Time slipped and eternity stood still. …
The shapeless enemies of humanity that live in the hours of Time had waylaid Joe.
Lines like these stand out with a force not first expected on my reading of the first pages of the story. I see now that this author is talking about and able to convey — a sense of universal quandaries that can stop us in our tracks.
I do resist the idea that Missie May could have allow this oaf into her bed in hopes of getting some gold. That Slemmons had noticed her, and tipped his hat to her, and had been planning on how to get to her in his vaunted conquest of women, sure, that part is obvious. But is it a rape? Or a semi or even full willingness on her part to do whatever had to be done for the promised gold? Her extreme weeping and assumption that Joe would be leaving her, sounds like she knows she is at fault.