This is a story about an African man and woman who are married but very poor. Their poverty leads them to a situation where the woman has to sleep with another man for monetary gain. The story begins with an imaginary sketch of the home where Joe and missy May Banks live in. It description clearly portrays a very humble home but one filled with happiness. Zora Neale Hurston describes their home to the reader as “a Negro yard around a Negro house in a Negro settlement…But there was something happy about the place” (Rubenstein & Lars Joe banks and Missie Mays have just been married and are immensely in love. Missie’s husband; Joe, has a night-shift job at a nearby fertilizer plant which rarely pays him much but this has no effect on their happiness. One can clearly tell that they lead a life full “joyful mischief” and much true happiness until Slemmons comes into their lives and leaves their marriage, love and trust on the rocks.
The main characters in this story are Joe Banks, Missie may Banks and Slemmons, Joe Banks has several unique characters as portrayed in this story.
He is a loving person and husband to Missie. This is seen in his habit of buying gifts for his wife everyday. Every evening, he brings home a candy and other gifts for his wife. In the story, Joe states that his best portion of life was going back home to his wife each day, He is also playful; Joe and Missie enjoy playing a particular teasing game where he spins his earned silver coins over their doorstep every day after work. The wife’s part of the game is to collect the coins and carefully put them beside her plate when they are having supper. Their home is portrayed as one without money but with lots of happiness, excitement and love (Rubenstein & Larson, 365).Joe is a hardworking person and works throughout the week. He leaves for work at dawn and returns in the evening and he rarely has time to idle around. Joe can also be described as a forgiving person; this is seen in the story when Joe meets his wife in bed with Slemmons and she pleads for his forgiveness. Though he doesn’t forgive her instantly, he gradually does and they are back to normal.
Missie May is a loving, dutiful and responsible wife to Joe; she does all her duties and cooks for her husband in time. She makes sure to do all these duties before her husband is back from home and she welcomes him lovingly every evening. She is humble and contented with the little money that her husband earns from the factory. However, when Slemmons comes into their life, a seed of greed and desire for money seem to crop up inside her. In the beginning, Missie hates the fact that her husband is thrilled by Slemmons. This is because she believes that her husband is the best man to be ever found in this universe. However, Joe seems obsessed with stories about Slemmons wealth to a point that Missie May slowly begins to think of how life could have been if they had a lot of money in their possession. She wonders if their life would be better if they are rich. She is portrayed as unfaithful, greedy and immoral when she sleeps with Slemmons to get money from him. As a married woman, she is treacherous; she defiles her marriage and betrays her husband by sleeping with another man for monetary gain.
Slemmons is a rich man who comes in the life of Joe and Missie and almost breaks their happy family. In the story, Slemmons is portrayed as a very wealthy and successful man who has his way with most women. He has been adventurous and has much experience of life. He is a pretender; he pretends to swim in a pool of riches and covers himself with expensive jewels making Joe and Missie believe that he is indeed rich while in real life, he is not as rich as he claims. He is a liar, a schemer and a cheater as he lures Joe’s wife to bed making her believe that she would get golden coins from his ice cream shop but gives her a gilded coin. He also proves to be immoral and promiscuous when he asks Joe’s wife to sleep with him so he can part with some cash.
As a reader, I see Missie as a gullible victim; she falls into Slemmons trap so easily and she doesn’t even realize that the coin he leaves for her is not a piece of gold but a coin covered with foil (a gilded Half dollar). This only means that Slemmons was fake and had deceived her and she had stupidly fallen to his evil lies. She had risked all her happiness for nothing but a foil-covered coin and she is clearly bitter about it.
As for Joe, I see him as one who digs himself a grave the moment he starts being excited with Slemmon’s processions and starts to show off his wife to the stranger. He plays a big role in poisoning Missies mind with desire for money, power and possessions. His act of carrying the gilded coin may be an act of bitterness over what he brought upon himself. However, I see his great love for his wife when he does not chase her away or beat her after meeting her in bed with another man. He even goes as further as to forgive her and believe that the baby she is carrying is his. As for slemmons, I see him as an evil man who takes advantage of Joe and Missie’s situation and naivety by pretending to be their friends while his main intention to get Missie in hi bed.
Money is the root of all evil is one major theme that Zora Houston; though indirectly, clearly stresses on in the story. He tells us how happy and peaceful Joe and Missie are before the desire for money enters their minds. In this story, the desire for money leads to various fatal consequences, first, there is betrayal; it comes in when Missie starts to be impressed by Slemmons and his supposed wealth. She is willing to sleep with him just to get some money and in so doing she betrays her husband and their love as a married couple. Her greed for money leads her to betray Joe. Zora Houston clearly shows how the greed for money almost leads to a broken home of Joe and Missie. This is signified by the uncomfortable silence between the couple after Joe meets Slemmons and his wife in bed. Their habitual game is over meaning no money or gifts for Missie May as it was before. He always carries with him a golden coin left by Slemmon maybe to remind him of what he brought upon himself; a sign of bitterness.
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After reading this story, I agree that money is surely a root of all evils. The desire for money pushes Missie to the edge and she gets herself in bed with am man who is not her husband just in the name of wealth. Throughout the story I have seen how evils such as betrayal, greed and promiscuity can germinate in search of money. It’s obvious to me that money is not a root for happiness and Joe and Missie too seem to realize this fact at the end of the story