"Sweat" and "Gilded Six-Bits" by Zora Neale Hurston: A Closer Look

Topics: White people, Black people, Race Pages: 8 (3075 words) Published: October 9, 2006
The Harlem Renaissance marked the coming out of many brilliant black authors and thinkers. Names like Jessie Redmon Fauset, Alain Locke, Ralph Waldo Ellison, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston marked the scene. Hurton portrays many messages in her stories without having to explicitly spell it out. This among other reasons make Hurston's writing so rich. Two of her almost fable-like stories, "Sweat" and "The Gilded Six-Bits", each portray powerful messages individually. In "Sweat," you get a message of "whatever goes over the Devil's back, is got to come under his belly." You will reap what you sow among other messages. In "The Gilded Six-Bits," you learn that time will heal, money is the root of all evil, and other morals. These stories individually would seem stories that an elder would pass down to a youth to help them establish principles to live their lives by. As powerful as these stories are when acknowledged individually, when studied together these two stories can tell you much more about Hurston and her writing, her characters and their thoughts, the setting, race, and more. When you analyze these two stories you find that there are much more similarities than differences.

Eatonville, Florida, the first black self-governed community in the nation, served as the setting for both of Hurton's stories: "Sweat" and "The Gilded Six-Bits." This all-black settlement served as a haven for her character as it provided a way for them to not deal with white America directly. The setting of these stories also helped to establish what a flourishing black culture can become outside of the interference of the white culture. Hurston opposed interference of white culture in black institutions. Hurston said the following in a letter she wrote to the Orlando Sentinel about the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education case:

If there are not adequate Negro schools in Florida, and there is some residual, some inherent and unchangeable quality in white schools, impossible to duplicate anywhere else, then I am the first to insist that Negro children of Florida be allowed to share this boon. But if there are adequate Negro schools and prepared instructors and instructions, then there is nothing different except the presence of white people.

The absence of white people was exactly what she wanted to portray in both "Sweat" and "The Gilded Six-Bits," and the self-sufficient town that has sprung up in that absence. The few times that a white character is introduced, it is never in the town and it is negatively. In "The Gilded Six-Bits" the white clerk says, "Wisht I could be like these darkies. Laughin' all the time. Nothin' worries 'em." While the worries of Joe remains unknown by this clerk. The unthinking biased clerk basically sums up all of Joe's troubles in one unmistakably, false comment. I doubt that he wants to be like any black person. In "Sweat," Delia threatens Sykes by promising to tell the "white folks" about his actions. Immediately after, he leaves the house. It is unclear whether the actual threat or Delia's boldness scared him off, but the fact that somehow "white folks" could provide some justice that black people cannot offer in a town that is governed by black people, may not be the best image of the town that Delia stays in.

In both stories, a power struggle was ever-present. Throughout both stories there is a constant shift of power between characters. In "The Gilded Six-Bits," the story starts of with equals. Missie May and Joe were each just as powerful as the other within their own domain. Joe's possession of the gold coin marked a change in the power dynamics. With Missie May's fall from grace, came Joe's ultimate control over their situation. Joe controlled the outcome of the relationship. Joe controlled physical contact. Joe controlled Missie May's ultimate decision to not kill herself. Missie May tries to regain some of her power, when Joe pays her for her services. She leave her home with no intent of...


Cited: Hurston, Zora Neale. "Sweat." The Norton Anthology: Literature by Women. Ed. Sandra M.
Gilbert and Susan Gubar. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 1996. 1490-98
Hurston, Zora Neale. "The Gilded Six-Bits."
The Holy Bible. Ed. Thomas Nelson, Inc. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1994
Hurston, Zora Neale. Letter. Orlando Sentinel. 11 August 1955
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