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A Gathering of Old Men

Context
Ernest J. Gaines was born on January 15, 1933 on the River Lake Plantation located in Oscar,
Louisiana. His parents, Manuel and Adrienne Gaines, worked on the plantation and Ernest also
started working there he was just eight. By the time he was nine, he was digging potatoes for
fifty cents a day. He is the oldest of eight brothers and three sisters. A major influence in his
early life was his Aunt Augusteen. She was disabled, having no legs, so she took care of the
children while the other adults worked. Her strength and determination influenced the young
Ernest, such that strong older black women have frequently played an important role in his
fiction.
In 1948 at the age of fifteen, Gaines moved with his family to Vallejo California. In California,
Gaines was able to receive a more thorough education than had been possible in the South. He
began to read extensively, feeling particularly drawn to the Russian novelists, Turgenev,
Tolstoy, and Gogol, whom he felt taught him to write about rural people. After high school,
Gaines enrolled in Vallejo Junior College and also served for two years in the army. He
published his first story in 1956 in a small San Francisco magazine, Transfer. He graduated
from San Francisco State College in 1957. In the same year, he won a Wallace Stegner
Fellowship to study creative writing at Stanford during the academic year of 19581959.
Since graduating from Stanford, Gaines has devoted himself fully to the craft of writing. He
states that he writes "five hours a day, five days a week." His dedication has paid off. Gaines
published his first novel Catherine Carmier in 1964. Seven other novels have followed: Of
Love and Dust 1967; Bloodline 1968; A Long Day in November 1971; The Autobiography of
Miss Jane Pittman 1973; In My Father's House 1978; A Gathering of Old Men 1983; and A
Lesson Before Dying 1993. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, A Lesson Before Dying,
a n d A Gathering of Old Men were also made into television movies, thereby popularizing
Gaines's work. Gaines currently is a professor at the University of Southwestern Louisiana.
Ernest Gaines's work is best categorized as Southern fiction and African- American fiction.
Gaines's novels and short stories focus on the people, folklore, and dialects of rural Louisiana.
The setting of his novels is always Bayonne Louisiana: a mythical region that embodies the
Louisianan culture, much in the way that Faulkner's mythical county of Yoknapatawpha did for
Mississippi. Many textual references to Faulkner can be seen in Gaines's writing such as the
common first person narration and the use of Southern dialects. Gaines does acknowledge that
Faulkner heavily influenced his work and also has cited the influence of another great Southern
stylist, Hemingway.
Gaines's work also frequently presents motifs common to the African-American tradition. Oral
storytelling and folklore, two elements that have dominated African-American literature since
the days of slavery, frequently appear in his novels. Additionally, by setting his tales in old
plantations, Gaines creates neoslave narratives that retell post Civil War African-American
history from the perspective of one character. By using these personalized tales, Gaines seeks
to record their previously unrecorded experiences. His efforts to include African- American

stories in American history can be compared to similar efforts by Toni Morrison and John
Edgar Wideman. Gaines's interest in the issue of black masculinity is another issue shared by
many other African-American writers, such as James Baldwin, Richard Wright, and James
McPherson. All in all, Gaines has never sought to be known as a "black writer" and even
avoided being placed in the more militant Black Arts Movement of the 1960s. Still, his
devotion to the people and cultures of his youth necessarily bring up both Southern and
African- American themes and has made him a formidable writer of recent times.

Plot Overview
A Gathering of Old Men takes place on the Marshall Plantation in Bayonne Louisiana. The
plantation's Cajun work boss, Beau Baton, has been murdered just before the novel begins.
Candy Marshall, the partial owner and general overseer of the plantation, discovers Beau's dead
body outside of Mathu's house. Candy believes that Mathu killed Beau, but as Mathu is
virtually her foster father she wants to make every effort to protect him. Candy immediately
gathers everyone in the plantation to Mathu's house. When Miss Merle, the mistress of a local
plantation arrives, Candy promptly confesses to the murder. Miss Merle does not believe her,
but agrees to help. Candy decides that the best course of action would be to bring all the local
men to Mathu's house with as many twelve gauge shotguns and empty shells as possible. With
numerous men and guns at the crime scene, Candy believes that the local Sheriff will not be
able to solve the crime. Miss Merle spreads Candy's plan through the community. Within a few
hours, eighteen men have gathered at Mathu's house. All of these men are in their seventies and
their eighties, but they have all brought their shotguns and are ready to confess.
In addition to the arrival of the Sheriff, most people at the plantation await the arrival of local
Cajun named Fix. Historically, Fix led many lynch mobs against the local blacks. Everyone at
the plantation believes that he will soon arrive once again to seek revenge, especially since the
murdered man, Beau, is his son. Before anything else happens though, two other men arrive:
Lou Dimes, Candy's boyfriend, and Sheriff Mapes. After the Sheriff sees Beau's dead body, he
instructs his deputy to find Fix and keep him off the plantation as to avoid a lynching. Candy
promptly tells the Sheriff that she committed the murder, but he does not believe her. The
Sheriff eyes the old men and decides to question them about the crime.
The first two men that the Sheriff Mapes questions, Billy Washington and Gable, both confess
to the murder. When their answers displease him, the Sheriff strikes them each twice. Next, the
Sheriff queries the Reverend Jameson to find out what is happening. When the Reverend tells
him nothing, the Sheriff punches him so forcibly that the Reverend falls to the ground. The
watching men respond by all physically lining up so that the Sheriff can easily hit them all.
Their willingness to confess and their indifference to being struck startle the Sheriff. He stops
his questioning and thinks about the murder. The Sheriff knows that Charlie, who is not
present, works most closely with Beau, but believes that Charlie is too weak to have committed
the act. The Sheriff decides that the only culprit could be Mathu because Mathu is the only
black man who has ever demonstrated the strength to stand up to local whites. For the Sheriff,
Mathu is the only man who is man enough to murder.
Although the Sheriff has a suspect, he cannot arrest anyone because everyone confesses. As the
afternoon goes on, many other black men confess to Beau's murder. They explain that they
killed Beau because of what they have suffered a sister raped; a son executed for crime he
did not commit; and a brother killed for beating a tractor in a race. Beau died, they explain, for
their past sufferings. The Sheriff still believes that Mathu murdered Beau, but can do nothing
so everyone just waits to see if Fix Bauton and a lynch mob will show up.
Beau Bauton's brother, Gil, is a star football player on the Louisiana State University team who
plays closely with a black halfback named Cal. The two players rely upon one another for their

success. Due to their racial combination the press has dubbed them "Salt and Pepper." When
Gil learns of his brother's murder, he treats Cal coldly. He visits the Marshall Plantation where
he sees the gathering of old black men with guns. This sight, and Candy's immediate
confession, combined with his brother's death grieves him greatly. Eventually, Gil makes it to
home to where his father, Fix Bauton, and others are waiting. Fix, old family friends, and some
local racist whites want to revenge Beau's death. Gil begs his father to let justice take its course
and argues that the days of lynching are over. Gil refuses to assist his family in violence, citing
his desire become an All-American football player. Luke Will, a local ruffian, criticizes Gil's
perspective, and so too does Gil's father. Still, Fix will not revenge Beau's death without all of
his sons. Without Gil, Fix decides to stay home. Luke Will, on the other hand, is up for the job
and gathers some men to help him. They stop first at a local bar to drink some whisky in order
to be prepared for the lynching.
Back at the plantation, Sheriff Mapes has found out that Fix is not coming. Mathu peacefully
agrees to go to jail. Before they leave however, Charlie returns. Charlie confesses that he killed
Beau after Beau threatened him. Charlie then asked Mathu to take the blame and fled. Charlie
has spent the day hiding in the swamps, but felt called back to confess and show that he is truly
a man.
Before Sheriff Mapes can take Charlie in, Luke Will and his crew arrive. They demand that
Mapes hand Charlie over. When Mapes refuses, Luke Will shoots Mapes in the arm. The old
black men grab live shotgun shells that they have been hiding in their pockets and start
shooting at the whites. Sheriff Mapes remains fallen and injured in Mathu's front yard. The
shooting surprises the whites and one of them, Leroy, is lightly injured. As the battle continues,
Charlie and Luke Will become the primary fighters, dead set on eliminating the other.
Eventually, Charlie rises from his hiding spot and manages to shoot Luke Will before he
himself is shot to death. Everyone in the community pays homage to Charlie's dead body.
A trial for all blacks and whites involved in the shooting takes place a week after the event. The
judge places everyone on probation for five years. At the trial's end, Mathu disappears with the
other black men in a car, while Candy lingers on the courthouse steps with Lou. She grips his
hand tightly as the novel closes in a gesture that reaffirms her commitment to their
relationship.

Character List
Candy Marshall - Partial owner of the Marshall Plantation. Candy organizes the events in the
novel after she learns of the murder of Beau Bauton. She appears to be close friends with the
blacks on the plantation, but actually possesses a form of benevolent racism consistent with her
high social class. Although she appears headstrong and spunky when she confesses to Beau's
murder, she actually is blind in many ways. The man that she believes committed the crime,
Mathu, did not do it. With her unwillingness to let Mathu handle the situation, Candy restricts
his freedom and humanity. Still Candy is generally a good figure, who represents the
possibility of a future for the plantation. By the end of the novel, she has grown more selfrealized and lost some of her tacitly racist ways.
Read an in-depth analysis of Candy Marshall.
Mathu - The man suspected of killing Beau Baton because Beau was killed outside of Mathu's
house and Mathu is the toughest black man around. Mathu is honored and respected by all of
the characters in the novel, including Candy and the Sheriff Mapes. Candy adores Mathu
because he basically raised her. Sheriff Mapes and Mathu have occasionally gone fishing. The
other blacks have admired Mathu's willingness to stand up to local blacks and all want to help
him. Mathu is not a character without fault; he has excessive pride. He believes that he is
superior to other blacks first because is not cowardly like them, and second because his dark
skin shows that he has never been tainted with white blood. Mathu changes throughout the
novel as well. At its end, he realizes the faultiness of his excessive pride. Overall, Mathu is a
strong black man who is a role model for the other men.
Mapes - The Sheriff of Bayonne. Mapes is a complex character who is likeable in some ways,
but whose techniques are outdated. Mapes relies about the use of violence to interrogate the old
black men, a technique that is unnecessary and harsh. Mapes belongs to an older order of
Southern men who did define their manhood by their ability to subjugate another. In this way,
his time has past. Still, in some ways the Sheriff eludes the concept of race in his friendship
with Mathu. Sheriff Mapes respects Mathu's manhood and therefore has gone fishing with him.
The Sheriff's willingness to interact with a black man, shows is willing to live outside of the
concept of race. Similarly, the Sheriff listens to the narratives of the older black men without
complaint and shows no preference for whites in the final battle. In many ways, Sheriff Mapes
is a likable character, but his techniques suggest that he is stuck in an earlier Southern era.
Read an in-depth analysis of Mapes.
Lou Dimes - Candy's boyfriend. Lou is the most frequent narrator in the novel. He works as a
journalist in Baton Rouge and his style is detached and observant. In addition to being a
narrator, Lou also is the representative of a new Southern male. Lou wants to marry Candy,
who represents the plantation world, but he is an educated city journalist who does not entirely
fit in at the plantation. Both Sheriff Mapes and Miss Merle question Lou's manhood when he
fails to control and quiet Candy down. Lou's relatively liberal view on her behavior differs
from the older Southern masculinity that dominated women as well as land and blacks. Lou's
unique masculinity represents the changing times.
Miss Merle - The owner of a local plantation. Miss Merle is generally a kindly lady whom

Janey describes as being fat with a nice round face. Miss Merle feels deeply concerned about
Candy, whom she played a role in raising. She also mobilizes Candy's effort to save Mathu.
Miss Merle is a member of the ruling white class who distinguishes herself clearly from the
blacks around her. Still, Miss Merle differs greatly from Jack and Bea Marshall by being both
aware and active in the community. Overall, Miss Merle is a nice generous female character
who seems slightly sad. She carries unrequited love for Jack Marshall and her attachment to
Candy suggests that she may not have had children of her own.
Beau Boutan - The Cajun farmer who leases the Marshall Plantation and who is killed right
before the action begins. Because he is dead for most of the novel, his role is largely symbolic.
Beau represents all white men who perpetuated violence against blacks. Beau's murder,
similarly, represents the murder that many of the persecuted blacks may have fantasized about.
Beau's connection to the agricultural transformation of the Marshall Plantation also makes him
a symbol of the detrimental shift in local economic patterns.
Fix Boutan - Father of Beau Boutan. A man feared by local blacks for his violent behavior
toward them. Fix Boutan is a classic Southern patriarch who rules his family and longs uses
violence to maintain its honor. Fix's presence dominates the novel since the characters all fear
him. However, he is no longer the young man that he once was. Although Fix still contemplates
exacting revenge, his ways are outdated. His time is past and he represents the old Southern
order that is dying.
Gil Boutan - One of the star football players on the Louisiana State Team. Gil is also known
by his nickname Salt. He is the brother of Beau Baton and the son of Fix, but his ideas differ
greatly from theirs. Gil represents a vision of a new social order that contains harmonious
racial relations. Gil's greatness as a football player is entirely dependent on his interaction with
a black player named Cal, "Pepper." Gil is to be a thoughtful, pained young man who feels
stressed by the historical burden of racism that his father embodies. Gil also is brave however
and his willingness to stand against the tradition of violence turns the historical tide.
Charlie - Works mostly closely with Beau Bauton, cutting and hauling cane everyday. Charlie
long has been known as a weak willed man who always runs from trouble and takes abuse from
everyone with no shame. Charlie's character becomes completely redefined when it is
discovered that he killed Beau Bauton. Furthermore, after Charlie fled and returned, Charlie
seems imbued with a new courage that the other blacks admire. Charlie symbolizes the strong
realization of black masculinity.
Jack Marshall - Part owner of the Marshall plantation. Jack is drunk during the entire novel
and says little. He represents the obsolescent order of plantation owners. He is ineffectual,
usually intoxicated, and generally disinterested. His drinking might arise from his guilt over his
family's slave owning past, but his inactivity suggests his lack of interest in making any effort
to redefine his self. Furthermore, while his family's identity may disgust him, Jack clings to it
with his snobbery. Jack is a useless ineffectual figure who appropriately owns deteriorating
ineffectual plantation.
Bea Marshall - Partial owner of the Marshall Plantation. Bea is married to Jack Marshall. Bea
Marshall also is an old and ineffectual representative of the old plantation order. Like her
husband, she spends most of her days drunk. She cares little for her niece and for the people
who work in her plantation. In the opening scene, she searches in the weeds for pecans under a
tree, which seems an accurate metaphor for how clueless she is to what is truly happening in
the world. She too seems an appropriate useless mistress for a deteriorating Southern
plantation.

Janey - The servant of the Marshall House. She fits into the classic role of a "house Negro," a
role that has existed and been pointed out since the times of slavery. Janey maintains allegiance
to more subservient ideas of race. For example, she tells Snookum to refer to the whites with
"Miss" or "Mr" and refuses to let him in the front yard. Like the other residents of the Marshall
House, Janey exists in the past social structure of plantation times. She clings to their ideas of
the world, which are outdated.
Snookum - The sole male child described during the novel. His youth and freshness stands in
contrast to the old men that surround him. Snookum is curious, disobedient, and questioning.
He represents the generation of black males that is to come in the future. His attitudes toward
the whites and toward masculinity will be greatly different from those of his elders. The
display of brave masculinity shown by the older black men in the novel will teach Snookum
lessons of manhood that few Southern blacks have been able to learn before him. Snookum
represents the future and the change that will come with the future.
Luke Will - Leads a group of men against the blacks at the Marshall Plantation. Luke Will has
rough manners and a rough temperament. Luke Will possesses outdated ideas, crass manners,
and dirty hands. In addition to being a ruffian, Will is in many ways a coward. Before going to
the lynching, for example, Luke and his men get drunk so that they can have the willpower to
undertake the violence ahead of them. Their need to exist as a drunk mob shows them as
insecure men who pray on others in order to achieve a sense of superiority. Luke Will,
however, is just a troublemaker not worthy of admiration.
Clatoo - One of the narrators of the novel. Clatoo brings all of the other men to the Marshall
Plantation by picking them up in his car. He also boldly confesses to Beau's murder and argues
with the Sheriff during the action. Furthermore, Clatoo is the one character to stands up to
Candy and disallows her from meeting with the men, as act that reveals her personality as it
really is. Clatoo is one of the stronger old men.
Johnny Paul - Lives on the Marshall Plantation. Johnny Paul confesses to the murder. He also
delivers an articulate explanation of the changing times on the plantation.
Reverend Jameson - The one black character who refuses to go along with Candy's plan. The
Reverend seems unwilling to accept the possibility of change in the new social order. The
Reverend prefers to stick with the clear-cut definitions from the past.
Sully - A football player from Louisiana State, who accompanies Gil Boutan back to his home
and reports on the events there. Sully is of an Irish background, an important distinction that
allows him to be a more objective narrator. Sully is also an educated narrator who compares the
scene at the Marshall Plantation to the Twilight Zone. This comparison reminds us that Sully is
addicted to television, but also highlights the new dimension of reality that is beginning to exist
in the world.
Tee Jack - One of the narrators and the owner of a local bar/corner store. Tee Jack's primary
concern is pleasing his customers. Tee Jack may not be a deep racist at heart, but his
unwillingness to counter the racist ideas voiced in his bar make him a tacit accomplice in the
crimes that they commit. Tee Jack represents the quiet acceptance of racist values in the South
and the difficulty of complete social change.
Coot - One of the narrators of the novel. He fought in World War One and wears his uniform
to the plantation out of pride.
Billy Washington - One of the oldest men present. He courageously confesses and tells his
story before any of the other men.
Sharp - One of the Cajuns who comes to lynch Beau's murderer. His narration reveals him to

be a generally weak figure who wants to back out of the lynching since the blacks have started
to fight back.
Dirty Red - One of the old men who narrates. Dirty Red's family has an unfavorable
reputation of cowardice, which Dirty Red helps to change with his actions in the novel.
Cal Harrison - A star black football player on the Louisiana State University Team. With Gil
Boutan, Cal represents the possibility of interracial harmony in the South. Together Gil and Cal
are known as "Salt and Pepper."
Rufe - One of the narrators of the novel.
Chimley - One of the narrators of the novel and one of the men who gathers at Mathu's house.
Mat - One of the narrators of the novel and one of the men who gathers at Mathu's house.
Gable - One of the old black men whom the Sheriff questions.
Glo Herbert - The grandmother of Snookum, Toddy, and Minnie. She is one of the few
female characters in the novel who reappears, but her role is limited.
Leroy - The white Cajun who is shot during the battle. Leroy represents the weakest of the
white males who comes for the lynching.
Russell - The deputy who keeps Fix away from the plantation. Russell uses sound logic to
convince Gil that Gil is doing the right thing. Russell is a deputy who is prepared to govern
within the post-Civil Rights era of the South since he does not appear to be a racist.
Griffin - The deputy who Mapes brings to the plantation. Griffin is a comic figure who fears
the old black man. He also maintains allegiance with the ways of the Old South by refusing to
fight against Luke Will because he is white and argues that the old black men should be made
to shut up. Griffin's adherence to racist ideas despite his youth suggests the unlikelihood of
rapid racial harmony in the South.
Tucker - One of the old black men that tells the story of his brother, Silas. Tucker's account
involves the symbolism of the changing times.
Bing and Ding Lejeune - Two of the men who gather at the Marshall plantation. Local whites
once poisoned their niece. They play a very minor role, but their account contributes to the
communal weave.

Analysis of Major Characters


Candy Marshall
Candy Marshall is the protagonist of the novel, even though the plot actually has little to do
with her self. She is the protagonist because Beau Boutan's murder takes place on her plantation
in Mathu's yard. Because of Candy's desire to protect Mathu, she immediately takes charge of
the situation by gathering men and shotguns from all around the community. Candy's desire to
protect those around her appears compassionate. As the novel continues, her motives seem less
genuine. On one level, Mathu is almost Candy's father, since he has literally raised her since
the death of her own parents. But, as the novel reveals, her love for Mathu is conditional.
Although Mathu has taught Candy about the structure of the plantation, she maintains her sense
of superiority over it. When the men announce that Candy cannot be part of their discussion,
she threatens to evict them. Her threats demonstrate that Candy still governs the plantation as if
she owns its residents. Candy wants to protect "her" people, but refuses to let them protect
themselves. Candy's protectionism seems to usurp what the men are trying to achieve. The men
want to demonstrate their bravery as men, but Candy wants them to stand as impotent as the
empty shells that line their shotguns. Candy's inability to recognize the old men's desire for
manhood and Mathu's independent abilities shows that in many ways she still blindly stands as
a mistress in the plantation world
Yet, Candy does appear to change within the novel. At the end of the book, she grabs onto Lou
Dimes's hand in a gesture of affection. Lou has asked Candy to marry him, but she has never
given him an answer. With this notable grab, she seems to be suggesting that she will accept
and commit to him. For Candy this change means a relaxation of her domineering attitude.
Furthermore, for Candy this change is beneficial and necessary. Candy's aunt and uncle, Bea
and Jack Marshall, no longer fit into the changing world with their obsolescent class concepts,
but the youthful Candy can re-adapt if she is willing to adjust with the times. At the end of the
novel, she appears to be ready.
Beau Bauton
Beau Bauton is dead throughout the entire novel, but is one of the most important characters
due to his symbolic role. Beau represents the social order that has subjugated the blacks
throughout history. All of the old black men believe Beau to have been closely linked to
violence events in their pastdaughters raped, sons killed, and friends attacked. No proof
clearly ties Beau to each specific act, but it does not matter. Based upon the remembrances of
the characters, it is clear that Beau is not a gentle figure. Charlie describes that Beau started
hitting him with a stalk of sugar cane because Beau did not like the way Charlie was working.
Beau's use of force for such a minor issue shows that he believed in the outdated technique of
using violence to subjugate blacks. Furthermore, after Charlie hits Beau back, Beau prepares to
murder him. In Beau's mind, shooting Charlie with a shotgun is an appropriate response to
Charlie hitting him with sugar cane. This logic is misguided, outdated, and racist. Because this
logic no longer fits into the new social order, it seems somewhat appropriate that Beau is dead.
Beau Bauton also is the primary symbol of the agricultural changes that have forced the blacks

off their ancestral land. Beau and his family brought the tractors that reduced the need for black
labor. Beau and his tractor run the plantation, but they do so inefficiently. The land is covered
with weeds and sugar cane grows wildly in some regions. With the change in the agricultural
system, the local black culture has died. The old men realize Beau's role in changing their
livelihood and resent it. Beau's death will not change the economic shift, however. Even though
he lies murdered, for much of the book the tractor he uses is still running. The Cajuns have
pushed out the local blacks and it is unlikely that the black community will ever thrive as it
once did. Still the old men can gain a certain satisfaction n the death of the cruel Beau Bauton.
Sheriff Mapes
Sheriff Mapes is a sixty-year-old white man who initially seems to be a classic racist, but
actually is more complex. When he first arrives at the plantation, he uses violence to question
the old men. The use of violence to frighten blacks is a typical tool of Southern law
enforcement. On this day however, these blows no longer work. The old men have actually
changed. Sheriff Mapes's blows do not inspire fear in them. The old men remain indifferent and
uncaring. They refuse to say more and sarcastically comment about the Sheriff's efforts. The
Sheriff's initial violent techniques show that in many ways he is still a man of the old Southern
order.
As the novel continues, Sheriff Mapes appears as a deeper character, who is more capable of
being understanding. He long has deeply respected Mathu for his manhood. The Sheriff and
Mathu even have gone fishing together, which suggests that the Sheriff is willing to maintain
acquaintances outside of the boundary of race. Furthermore, the Sheriff never indicates any
interest in persecuting the blacks simply because of their race. When Luke Will and his crew
arrive, Sheriff Mapes tries to fight them. The Sheriff is shot in his efforts. After he falls to the
ground, he decides just to sit there and ride the situation out. Sheriff Mapes could get up if he
truly wanted, but he has no incentive. He knows that Luke Will is a local ruffian not worth
protecting. Furthermore, he does not have a problem with letting the old black men take the
situation into their own hands and fight it out. The Sheriff's later leniency towards the blacks
demonstrates that he is a far more complex character than originally thought. By the end of the
novel, he seems to have changed and accepted them all as men. It seems unlikely that he will
use violent interrogation techniques against them again.

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols


Themes
Manhood and Redefining Black Masculinity

The primary theme in A Gathering of Old Men is the redefinition of black masculinity. Initially
titled "The Revenge of Old Men," the novel is a tale about action and self-realization. The old
men who gather at the plantation have spent their days running from trouble. After years of
social and economic subjugation in a racist system, they long to stand up for something. The
transformation that they long to undertake is best illustrated by Charlie. Charlie is a legendary
weakling who has always been defined by his servile personality. By the end of the novel
though, Charlie has changed. Not only did he kill Beau, but he returns to confess, and then
becomes the most courageous man in the battle. In just one day, Charlie has become a man
without fear. The old black men look for a similar transformation. They demonstrate their
strong selves by coming to help Mathu, by telling their stories, and by fighting with the whites.
By the end of the novel, all of these men have reaffirmed their manhood and their humanity.
Changes in Social and Legal Status

The social and legal status of blacks has changed in the South, but for most of the novel the
characters act as they would have years ago, with the blacks awaiting Fix and the lynch mob.
Luke Will and his crew expect the blacks not to fight back. However times have changed. When
Sheriff Mapes finds out that Fix is not coming to the plantation, he laughs. The Sheriff finally
sees that he and the other old men have been acting as if it was early in the century, instead of
the late 1970s. The Civil Rights movement has come and gone. Salt and Pepper are
demonstrating racial harmony on the football field. Social relations between whites and blacks
have changed and the characters should act accordingly. The final courtroom trial affirms of
the altered legal status of the races in the South. All of the defendants are tried together and all
of them receive the same penalty. This equitable trial stands in sharp contrast to the legacy of
racially biased legality in the South. By the end of the novel, everyone knows that the races
more fairly seem to legally co-exist.
Racial Interdependence

The existence of racial interdependence is mostly obvious seen with the combination of "Salt
and Pepper," the star football players. The success of these two players relies on their
cooperation with one another. If Cal, the fullback, did not support Gil, the halfback, the duo
would fail. Their need for joint playing is a metaphor for the entire South and in fact, the entire
country. The races need to work together for everyone to be successful. Working separately
will not allow for success in football or in American society. Cal and Gil will become "AllAmerican" players due to their cooperative effort. Similarly, the United State of America will
become more truly "all- American" if races fairly work together and are equally appreciated for
the roles that each of them play.
Motifs
Double consciousness

The narration by black characters demonstrates the widespread existence of double


consciousness. W.E.B DuBois, the early 20th century African-American scholar, coined the
concept of double consciousness to express the way in which American blacks have an identity
reserved for themselves and one reserved for whites. The public personas of old men in the
novel long have silently agreed to their subjugation. When transformed into narrators however,
their spirit and dreams of willful action become evident. The idea of dual identities also is
suggested by the characters' names. Each of the characters has two nameshis formal name
and the name by which he is most commonly known. The formal name belongs to the world of
documents and civil rights, the world to which the black men have always been denied entry.
The informal name reflects their character and its style. The old black men always have lived
with these two separate selves. With the events at the Marshall Plantation they are able to bring
their separate names together. The spirited internal personas become evident as the characters
narrate their tales. In the final trial, the characters also boldly refer to each other by their
nicknames rather than their formal ones. At the novel's end, the old men still possess double
consciousnesses once described by DuBois, yet the relationship of these two identities has
grown closer together.
Social Distinctions Inside Race

Gaines demonstrates social distinctions both between and within the races. The whites are
strictly divided between the white landowners and the local Cajuns, with the landowners
believing themselves superior. Likewise, the blacks use the issue of the lightness of skin tone
as a sign of social status. The development of characters within this novel shows all these
social hierarchies to be without basis. Bea and Jack Marshall, for example, believe themselves
superior but are truly drunken idlers. Mathu believes himself superior for being pitch black, but
by the end of the book, he realizes that the men's actions define their selves, not whether they
have traces of white blood. With this analysis, Gaines exposes the social hierarchies of the
South keenly and in doing so exposes the foolishness of their mere existence.
Storytelling
Ernest Gaines long has cited the importance of storytelling in the culture of his youth. As he says in an interview, "I come from a plantation where
people told stories by the fireplace at night, people told stories on the ditch bankPeople sat around telling stories." The importance of storytelling is
constantly reinforced in A Gathering of Old Men both because of the multiple narrators and because of the scenes where the old men actually tell tales of
their painful past. The stories and the narrative tone recreate the thick cultural weave of the local black culture. The dialects dance off one another,
reflecting the richness even within the small local community. The scenes in which the men confess to the murder and testify to their troubles
demonstrates that way that storytelling can become a bold act of defiance in a culture that once expected blacks to be silent. Presenting the important
motif of oral storytelling heralds back to African-American works as old as slave literature. In a culture that once was denied literacy, oral storytelling
became the primary means of defining one's self.

Symbols
Tractor

The tractor symbolizes the agricultural mechanization that has taken place with the growth of
Cajun farming and this mechanization's effect. The arrival of the tractor with the Cajuns shifted
the traditional means of local black life. Mechanization reduced the need for labor. The
community of blacks who once cared for the land became suddenly unemployed, and most of
them moved away. While the plantation once was carefully maintained by those who worked it,
now only the old remain and the plantation's buildings are deteriorating. The image of the
tractor is seen near Beau's dead body and later serves as a bastion for the Cajuns during the

battle. Overall it is a negative symbol that suggests increased hardships for the local blacks.
The tractor was the primary tool of the Cajuns that pushed the blacks off the land.
Sugar cane

Like the tractor, the sugar cane suggests the way that the Cajuns have changed the local
agriculture. The sugar cane represents the times when the blacks worked the land and their
community thrived. The Cajun farmers have destroyed the cane fields with their farming, much
in the way that they have destroyed the old men's previous way of life. The empty cane fields
seen on the way to the Marshall Plantation evoke the image of old houses from which good
friends have moved. The cane is gone and destroyed just as familiar days of the past have
disappeared. Additionally, the sugar cane also grows wildly in some areas and may even soon
overrun their local graveyarda clear symbol of how the Cajuns has pushed them from their
ancestral land. The symbol of sugar cane also contains a textual reference to Jean Toomer's
classic book Cane, a book that examines the vibrancy of early 20th century black life by
interweaving poetry and fiction. In Toomer's book, as in Ernest Gaines's, the sugar cane
represents the beauty and pain that African-Americans experienced as they worked for many
years close to the land.
Guns
Candy initially instructs the men to bring twelve-gauge shotguns to Mathu's house because she thinks that the proliferation of guns will make it
impossible for the Sheriff to solve the murder. Still while Candy wants the men to have weapons, she assumes that the guns will contain only empty
shells. By limiting the men to empty shells, Candy reinforces her hierarchical position over them and demonstrates that she fails to see them as strong
men. Lou and Sheriff Mapes initially feel alarmed at the sight of the rifles, but upon learning that they are empty, the white men feel once again
convinced that the guns are simply symbols of the old men's impotence. The old men, however, turn their guns into signs of manhood. Throughout the
day, Clatoo has arranged for the men to fill their pockets with live shotgun shells. By the time that the lynch mob appears, the old men are ready to fight.
When the men reveal that they are ready to defend their manhood with live shells, Lou, Candy, and Sheriff Mapes are shocked. In the end, the blacks
redefine their relationship to these guns by arming them. In doing so, they change remove any notion of them as impotence figures unable to use their
weapons. In the find battle scene, the black men, not the whites, truly are the ones calling the shots.

Chapter 1 and 2
Summary

Chapter 1: George Eliot Jr., aka Snookum


George Eliot, Jr., also known as Snookum, narrates Chapter 1. He is sitting at the kitchen table
eating with his siblings, Toddy and Minnie, when he hears Candy outside yelling for Aunt Glo,
his grandmother. He tries to get up and see what is happening, but his grandmother orders him
back to the table. Toddy laughs as Snookum returns to his chair. Snookum reflects on how
Toddy caught Minnie and him "playing mama and papa" in the weeds recently, so Snookum
cannot respond to Toddy's abuses in anyway or Toddy will tell on him.
Candy then summons Snookum outside. When Snookum gets there he sees that Candy looks
upset. She tells Snookum to run and tell Rufe, Reverence Jameson, and Corrine to go to
Mathu's house. She also tells him to go to the main house and tell Janey to telephone Lou and
Miss Merle. She urges him to rush and return straightaway.
Snookum shoots off down the road. When he gets near Mathu's house, Snookum sees that the
tractor is still running, but Charlie, its operator, is not around. Snookum sees Beau lying in the
weeds all bloody. Snookum tells Mathu that he has been ordered to summon everyone to
Mathu's house. Mathu tells him to stay away from Beau. Snookum dashes to the houses of
Rufe, the Reverend Jameson, and Corrine and gives them all Candy's message. When he arrives
at the Marshall House, where Janey lives, he calls to her from the gate. Janey chastises him for
yelling so loud and tells him that he should call Lou, "Mr. Lou," and Candy, "Miss Candy."
When Janey asks what it is all about, Snookum tells her that Beau is lying bloody in Mathu's
yard. Janey immediately looks frightened and remarks about having recently heard some
gunfire. She starts asking the Lord to have mercy. She tells Snookum that Fix is now going to
come, but that Snookum is probably too young to understand what Fix will do. Snookum asks
for some cakes as a reward for his running, but he gets nothing before heading home.
Chapter 2: Janice Robinson, aka Janey
Janey, formally known as Janice Robinson, narrates Chapter 2. After hearing the news, she
repeatedly asks the Lord and Jesus for mercy. She telephones Lou in Baton Rouge but is only
able to leave a message with the operator asking that he come immediately to the plantation.
She then calls Miss Merle, but no one answers the telephone. When Janey walks outside, she
sees that the Major is asleep on the porch swing having become already drunk even though it is
just around noon. She also sees Miss Bea searching for pecans in the weeds under the trees.
Janey hopes that a snake does not come out of the weeds and bite the old woman, because Janey
assumes that she will be blamed.
Janey calls Miss Merle again, but still gets no answer. Janey worries about Fix coming down
the road with his crew and their guns. She calls Miss Merle again, but still no answer. Janey
returns to dusting the house, which she had been doing before Snookum arrived. She suddenly
hears a car in the front drive and sees that it is Miss Merle. When Miss Merle sees that Janey

has been crying, she asks what is wrong. Miss Merle sees the drunk Major and comments the
earliness of the day. Janey tells Miss Merle that Beau is dead and that Candy is down in "the
quarters." Miss Merle makes an exclamation of distress and tries to wake up the Major. After
Miss Merle realizes that the Major cannot be roused, she decides to head down to Mathu's
house herself. As she is leaving, she instructs Janey to pray.
Analysis

These first two chapters lay out the event that will motivate the novel's plot, Beau's murder.
They also provide the story's setting, the Marshall Plantation. Snookum's run through the
plantation in Chapter One provides a physical depiction of its layout. He, like the other blacks
lives with his family down in the "quarters," or the area that once was called the "slave
quarters." Janey lives with Miss Bea, the Major, and Candy in the Marshall House, or the house
that once held the slave owners. This geographic division shows that the plantation is still laid
out as it was during slavery. The division maintains the old social order. The language used in
this chapter does as well. Janey instructs Snookum to call Lou, "Mr. Lou," and Candy, "Miss
Candy." Janey's instruction reinforces the traditional way that black people addressed whites. In
a contrary verbal pattern, we see that Candy Marshall calls Glo, "Aunt Glo." The use of "Aunt"
does not signify a term of affection for the old woman, but rather is a label that shows Candy's
superior social class. Traditionally whites labeled older black men and women as "Uncle" or
"Aunt." The false casualness of the terminology carries an insulting taint since it presupposes
that whites can refer to blacks as "Aunt" while the blacks have to refer to the whites as "Mr" or
"Miss." The way that Janey uses language also demonstrates her position in the social order.
Although she lives in the Marshall House, she is not the equal of the other residents. She calls
Merle, "Miss Merle," and Bea, "Miss Bea." These labels suggest, although it is not entirely
clear in this chapter, that she is a servant in the house. Gaines exposes these striations of social
class subtly in these first two chapters, but they will come to be more fully developed
throughout the novel.
Future events in the plot are also frequently foreshadowed in these first two chapters. The
picture of Beau's bloody body will reappear throughout the novel. The investigation into his
murder and the effects of this murder are the novel's primary issues. In these first two chapters,
we know very little about who Beau is and why he has been murdered. We learn that a man
named "Fix" might come and that his coming will likely bring violence to the area. We also
hear about the characters of "Lou" and "Mapes," but it is not clear who these people are. The
notion of fear, however, is well expressed by both Janey and Miss Merle. Other characters in
the novel will soon share their intense fear. Ironically, although the emotion dominates these
two chapters, Gaines will invert it by the end of the novel since by that time most of the
characters will have successfully confronted their fears.
There is also a unique narrative technique in these two chapters, in which a different person
narrates each chapter. The two different narrators are just the first out of fifteen that will appear
in the novel. Gaines's narrative technique allows for subjective storytelling: the narrators tell
what they see and think according to their own inclinations and personalities. This structure
allows for the novel to be told with a communal weave. Certain events are repeated from the
different narrative perspectives, allowing a broad understanding of the situation at hand.
Careful attention should also be paid to the way in which Gaines alters the diction and verbal

patterns of each character. Gaines's uses a child, Snookum, to open the tale, a move that is
reminiscent of a similar act in Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. Snookum's style reflects the
black idiom in which he was raised, while his tone is fresh and clear. At the same time,
Snookum is only privileged to a child's perspective and understands little about what is going
on. Janey's speech in Chapter Two reflects her deep religiosity since she relies heavily on
religious references. Janey also has limited knowledge about what is happening in the
plantation, but she still includes her own, slightly humorous, observations of Miss Merle. As
these two voices suggest the individual narrations allow for heavily subjective voices that do
not unfold in a straight logical fashion. As the narrators continue to emerge, so too will the
textual richness of the tale.

Chapter 3: Myrtle Bouchard, aka Miss Merle


Summary

Miss Merle narrates Chapter three. She has brought an apple pie over to the Marshall House to
give to Jack, the Major, in whom she has long been romantically interested with no success.
After seeing Janey's distress and Jack slumped over drunk, she drives down to the quarters. She
sees Candy in front of Mathu's house. Mathu, Johnny Paul, and Rufe are all sitting on the porch
holding shotguns. Candy tells Miss Merle that she shot Beau.
Miss Merle has known Candy since Candy was five or six when Candy's mother and father died
in a car crash. For this reason, Miss Merle knows that Candy is lying to her. Miss Merle begs
Candy to tell her the truth, but Candy insists that she shot Beau. Candy then explains that even
though she did it, Mathu, Rufe, and Johnny Paul have also confessed to the crime. Miss Merle
tells Candy that she knows that Candy did not kill Beau.
Candy asks Miss Merle to help by gathering as many men as possible to the scene, with twelve
gauge shotguns and some empty gun shells. When Miss Merle questions her reasoning, Candy
explains that if Mapes comes with just the three men there, he will beat them until one
confesses. If more men with shotguns appear, Mapes will not gather a confession so easily.
Candy explains that she does not want anything to happen to her people, especially to Mathu.
Miss Merle looks at Mathu and decides that he definitely killed Beau. She remembers how the
youthful Candy was closer to Mathu than to the aunt and uncle who were supposed to raise her.
Miss Merle knows that Candy is trying to protect Mathu with this scheme. Candy also begs
Miss Merle to make sure that Lou comes before Mapes.
Miss Merle returns to the Marshall House. She finds Jack still asleep drunk on the porch and
Bea sitting on the west gallery. When Bea sees Miss Merle, she orders Janey to go get them a
drink called a "pea picker," made of gin and pink lemonade.
Miss Merle tells Bea that Beau Bauton has been killed in the quarters and it is not the right
time for a drink. Bea does not care and becomes very angry when Merle tries to counteract her
order to Janey. Bea tells Miss Merle that she is not the mistress of Marshall House and that
Miss Merle has no right to give her servants orders. Janey gets the drinks.
Miss Merle tells Bea and Janey that Candy is claiming responsibility for the shooting. Bea
commends Candy's spunk remarking that it runs in their family, as Candy is her niece. She also
criticizes Beau's Cajun background. Miss Merle explains Candy's plan to Janey and Bea. When
Janey gets hysterical, Miss Merle slaps Janey's black face. Bea suggests that Janey call Clatoo
since Clatoo has hated Fix ever since Fix's brother tried to rape Clatoo's sister and his sister
was sent to prison and became insane. Miss Merle tells Bea and Janey to keep thinking up more
people. As Miss Merle heads to the phone, Bea also orders Janey to bring her another drink.
Analysis
This chapter continues to establish both the setting and the conflict that will emerge in the novel. Miss Merle is a white woman who belongs to the same
social class as Miss Bea, the Major, and Candy. Her location in this high class can be seen from the "Miss" before her name, her long term though
unfulfilled romantic intentions for Jack, and the way that she treats Janey, especially when she slaps her face. Janey, we find out clearly in this chapter,

is the house servant for the Marshalls and she is black. When Miss Merle tries to counteract Miss Bea's order for a drink, Miss Bea grows incensed and
tells her that they are not at the Seven Oaks Plantation but at the Marshall Plantation of which Miss Bea is mistress. In this way, it is clear that Miss
Merle is the mistress of a neighboring plantation who has long been acquainted with the Marshall family. Although Miss Merle belongs to the white
owner class, she is a different person than Miss Bea and Jack Marshall. When Miss Merle learns of Beau's death, she immediately heads down into the
quarters to find out what is happening and to talk to Candy. Miss Merle also agrees to help Candy and by helping Candy, she helps Mathu, a black
man whom she believes killed Beau. Miss Merle's concern with the people of the plantation differs greatly from the response of Bea Marshall who simply
does not care. When Bea learns of the murder, she is fast on her way to getting drunk. Her husband, Jack Marshall, already is so drunk that he is asleep
on the porch. Miss Bea furthermore expresses her disgust at Beau's Cajun background and describes how she never liked him or "his kind." Miss Bea's
prejudiced statement underscores the social difference within the local whites, primarily the landowners and the Cajuns who worked the land. The
Cajuns arrived in Louisiana in the late 18th century after fleeing the French-speaking region of Canada. During the slavery era, the Cajuns were poor
whites who stood economically outside the plantation system since they did not own land and were not black. When slavery ended, the Cajuns had to
compete with the local blacks who were now free. In the postwar period, the Cajuns often received the best plots of land because they were white, while
the blacks were slowly forced out of the agricultural system like in this novel. As Gaines's suggests, the Cajuns, represented by Fix, also maintained their
hierarchy over blacks by using systematic violence against them. The working class whites, such as the Cajuns, initiated legacy of racial violence in the
South in part due to sheer economic competition. Still the landowning whites, like Miss Bea, never accepted these Cajuns as their equals even though
they belong to the same race and have lived in the same community for centuries. Miss Bea additionally expresses her dissatisfaction with the way that
the Cajuns changed the agricultural techniques of the region. The change she refers to involves the Cajun use of the tractors that phased out the
traditional sharecropping by blacks on the land. Miss Bea's remark about the shift in agricultural techniques is the first of many that will appear in the
novel. The Cajun's use of the tractor is a repeating symbol in the text. Miss Merle narrates this chapter and her style is that of an educated white
Southern woman. Although she is more informed and kinder than Bea Marshall, her tone still maintains her sense of social superiority. When she visits
the quarters, for example, she compares its residents to bedbugs, which is not a particularly flattering comparison. Still, because of the clarity of her
narrative style many plot elements are much more clear than when Snookum and Janey narrated. We now understand that Candy Marshall generally
oversees the plantation and is close with the plantation blacks. Furthermore, Candy's exposition of her plan foreshadows the plot movement to come.
The old men will gather at the Marshall plantation as Candy has desired. Candy will spend the novel defending Mathu. Miss Merle's visit to the crime
scene also clearly locates Mathu as the suspected murderer. This third chapter has presented the issues facing the characters and set the stage, and the
arena is now arranged for the future gathering of the old men.

Chapter 4 and 5
Summary

Chapter 4: Robert Louis Stevenson Banks, aka Chimley


Chimley and Mat are fishing as they always do on Tuesdays and Thursdays for the past
ten years. They have each caught several perches and are discussing the old days. A boy
comes running toward the river and tells them that Clatoo wants them to know that Candy
needs them at the Marshall Plantation. The boy tells them to bring their shotguns and
some empty shells, because Beau Bauton has been shot outside Mathu's house. The boy,
whom Chimley feels is a sissy, remarks that he personally is going to get himself as far
away from that area as he can. He then runs away. Chimley and Mat go on fishing silently.
Chimley reflects that blacks have been punished over the years for minor offenses like a
misspoken word, but that no black ever murdered a white man. Chimley cannot imagine
what will happen in response. Mat comments that God works in mysterious ways. After
more fishing, Mat asks Chimley if he is scared and Chimley says yes. Mat tells Chimley
that he is seventy-one years oldChimley is seventy-twoand he does not want to go hide
under a bed to ride this situation out. Mat and Chimley consider whether or not Mathu
killed Beau. Chimley knows Mathu has had minor arguments with the local Cajuns before.
Once Fix ordered Mathu to carry his cola can to the garbage at the back of the local store
and Mathu refused. Fix then punched Mathu and the two men got into a full on fight. The
sheriff, who watched the whole thing, punched both men equally at the fight's end, and
fortunately Mathu was never lynched. Chimley knows that Mathu is one of the few black
men around who ever stood up for himself. Mat and Chimley decide to go. They pull in
their fishing lines and head to their houses. When Chimley gets home, his wife starts
fussing and asks why he came home so early. He hands her the fish and tells her that she
better have them ready by supper. Chimley tells her nothing else, grabs his shotgun, and
heads out to the road to catch a ride with Clatoo.
Chapter 5: Matthew Lincoln Brown, aka Mat
Mat narrates Chapter 5. Upon getting home, he telephones Clatoo to see if he can catch a ride.
Using the phone, Clatoo also manages to borrow a shotgun from a local woman. After Mat
arranges everything, his wife, Ella, eyes him suspiciously and demands to know what is
happening. Mat refuses to tell her and insists that it is men's business. Ella looks outside and
sees a neighbor, Billy Washington, with a shotgun. Because Billy is so old and never goes
hunting, she knows something is happening. She hounds her husband. Finally Mat tells her that
a Cajun has been killed and that they are all going to the Marshall Plantation to help out. Ella
explodes. She tells Mat that he is crazy and that he is not going. Mat responds with anger and
tells his wife that he is finally standing up for something like a man after the years of abuse,
toiling in the fields. Mat evokes the memory of their son who died because the local hospital
refused to treat a black man, and he starts weeping as he fights. Upon hearing the car horn
outside, he abruptly leaves. Clatoo is driving and Mat climbs in the back with Billy
Washington, Chimley, Cherry Bello, and Jacob Aguillard. The men remark on the fight Mat
must have just had with his wife. They each comment on how they managed to slip away from

their own women. Mat talks to Chimley who acknowledges that he is scared. Mat feels scared
too, but proud also in a different way.
Analysis

These two chapters set Candy's plan into motion and give us the first glance into the old men
who will gather at the plantation. A major theme in these two chapters is the issue of manhood.
The opening of the section shows Chimley and Mat as they are before the day's events. They
are old, in their early seventies, and they are fishing, a traditional masculine activity. When
they learn of Beau's death and Candy's call for help, they both grow quiet with thought. After
thinking about the matter for a few minutes, Mat remarks to Chimley that God works in
mysterious ways. His comment suggests that this opportunity to help Mathu will give Chimley
and Mat a way to redeem themselves before they die. The act of redemption will come from
them bravely standing up like men instead of hiding under beds like cowards. For most of their
lives, they, like most black men, have chosen the latter route since standing up to local whites
often meant physical torture and death. Now in their twilight years, they suddenly feel
empowered to stand up as they never have before.
The argument between Mat and his wife further demonstrates Mat's need to redefine his
masculinity. His wife wants him to stay home like a beaten down old man, but he refuses to do
so. Mat invokes the memories of their son's painful death, their years of suffering in the fields,
and the legacy of discrimination. Their argument is deeply touching since Mat starts to weep as
he defends his desire to finally do something brave. The other men that Mat soon after meets in
the truck also have slipped away from their women. These old men all have a fierce
determination now to demonstrate themselves. They have long looked up to Mathu because
Mathu has been the one man who stood up against whites in the community. Through the old
men's willingness to take action, they will be able to assert their masculinity.
Chimley and Mat narrate these two chapters. They both are uneducated older black men who
have spent their days toiling on the Marshall Plantation. Their style reflects the local black
idiom. Chimley and Mat are not major characters in the novel. Along with some of the other
men met in this chapter, Billy Washington, Joseph Aguillard, and Clatoo, they just become
some of the many men who respond to Mathu's house. In fact, these two chapters represent
their most visible moments in the novel. Still while their individual characters are not crucial,
their narrations initiate the series of narratives by the old men who will gather at the plantation.
Their memories and points of view will be woven with those from the other old black men.
United, their tales present a rich textile of their lives with their pains and their pleasures. By
granting Mat and Chimley narrative voices, Gaines's grants them the further power of selfdefinition. These two men will likely never tell their own stories in writing, but they are able to
do so orally in this novel. The struggle for self-definition through the control of language is an
important theme in the African-American tradition from the efforts of Frederick Douglass to
that of Ralph Ellison. With their physical actions during this day, the old men will be
demonstrating to themselves and the communities that they are no longer cowards. With their
ability to describe themselves with their own words, the old men will be demonstrating that
although illiterate, they are still masters of language and self. In addition to creating narrative
texture, Gaines's unique narrative structure grants his characters the further possibility of selfdefinition.

Chapters 6 and 7
Summary

Chapter 6: Grant Bello, aka Cherry


Grant Bello, aka Cherry narrates this chapter. He is sitting in the back of Clatoo's truck when
Clatoo slows down to pick up Yank. Yank is in his early seventies, but he used to be a cowherd
and still acts like a cowboy notwithstanding his aged body that was frequently injured over the
years. Yank greets everyone in the truck and Cherry recognizes pride on Yank's face. Cherry
reflects that pride is an emotion that they all seem to feel. About a mile down the road, Clatoo
stops to pick up Dirty Red.
About four miles after picking up Dirty Red, Clatoo stops his truck on a small dirt road
surrounded by sugar cane. The two main plantations in the area, the Morgan and the Marshall,
lie on either side of this road. Clatoo lets the men present out of his car and tells them to
wander up toward the graveyard. Clatoo has to go pick up some other men. After he returns,
they will all walk to Mathu's house together.
As they walk through the sugar cane of the Marshall plantation, Cherry explains that although
the Marshalls still owned the land, Beau Bauton and his family have been leasing it for the past
twenty-five years. Cherry and his ancestors have been working on this land since slavery, until
the Bautons arrived. Cherry spots a nearby cane field that had just been cleared and he finds
that the sight depresses him. He decides that the empty cane field is like an old house that
people have moved out of. A sound of a shot breaks Cherry's reverie. Billy Washington has shot
at, and missed, a rabbit. Billy looks very ashamed that he missed.
The men arrive at the graveyard that is surrounded by increasingly encroaching sugar cane. All
the local black families have a small area of the yard that belongs to them. Jacob Aguillard
goes over to the grave of his sister Tessie. Cherry remembers how she was a pretty mulatto girl
who slept with both white and black men. The white men eventually killed her for sleeping with
blacks. After her death, her family refused to take her body home because they felt she had
disgraced them by mixing with dark folks. Cherry wonders if Jacob is lamenting the way that
he treated his sister thirty years ago. Cherry goes to his family's area and prays. He then eats
some pecans that have fallen to the ground on the advice of Dirty Red who think that graveyard
pecans taste good. The community frequently has thought of Dirty Red and his family as lazy
and Cherry reflects that Dirty Red must have come out this day to do something good.
Clatoo soon returns with seven other men all carrying guns. The men fire their shotguns into
the trees so that all their shotguns will appear to have just been used. They then keep walking
toward Mathu's house.
Chapter 7: Cyril Robillard, aka Clatoo
Clatoo, formally known as Cyril Robillard, narrates this chapter. Candy meets him and the
other men by Mathu's house. Clatoo has known Candy all her life and knows what Mathu
means to her family and especially to her. Candy describes for Clatoo how she shot Beau, but

Clatoo knows that she is lying because her story sounds too practiced. Clatoo sees Mathu
squatting near his house. Mathu is a dark-skinned man who takes pride in his coloring. Mathu
even believes himself superior to lighter blacks since he, unlike them, has not bee tainted with
white blood. Clatoo himself is brown skinned, as some of his grandparents were white and
Indian. Clatoo sees Beau's bloody body lying on the grass.
Clatoo approaches Glo Hebert and notes upon shaking her hand that she is very proud that they
all have come. Clatoo then speaks to Mathu who tells him that this plan was Candy's not his
own. Mathu says that he will turn himself in when the sheriff gets there. Johnny Paul and Rufe
then say that Mathu cannot turn himself him because they shot Beau not him. All the men on
the property immediately start claiming that they shot Beau, even if they have just arrived. The
men even start competing with one another with their claims.
Reverend Jameson is the only man who does not participate. He believes their plan foolish and
foolhardy and loudly tells them so. Candy tells him to go home if he does not like it, but
Reverend Jameson continues to complain. Soon after, a car starts heading down the road. It
stops before the house and Lou, Candy's boyfriend, gets out.
Analysis

With these two chapters, the old men gather and finally arrive at the plantation. Several
important stops mark their journey. First, the men walk through the cut sugar cane on the
Marshall Plantation. This walk gives Cherry the opportunity to explain that although the
Marshall family still owned the plantation, the Bautons have been leasing it for close to twentyfive years. Up until that time, Cherry's family had worked on the land since the days of slavery.
Beau's arrival heralded changes in the agricultural system and eventually led to the decreased
need for local black labor. The fact that the Bautons now manage the farm further underscores
the already evident idleness of Bea and Jack Marshall who actually own the land.
As Cherry walks through the empty cane fields, he feels lonely and depressed. The cane evokes
the memory of time when the black community thrived in their agricultural work. In those
days, the people worked the soil and the soil gave them life. Families lived on or around the
plantation. Songs, stories, and relationships bound them together. With the arrival of the Cajuns
and their tractor however, the diminished need for black labor stripped the black community of
all middle aged adults. These days only the old men remain on the farm. The community is
dying away, just as the plantation is becoming increasingly decayed. Weeds surround the fields.
The sugar cane grows wildly almost up to the graveyard in such a way that threatens the yard
itself, symbolically suggesting the way that the recent agricultural change is threatening the
past of the local blacks. The walk through the cane appears to be the perfect conduit for the old
men since it reminds them of everything that the plantation once meant to them and how and
why it has changed. The nature of this change is essential in understanding the complex reasons
that led to Beau Boutan's death.
The second important stop on the way to the plantation is at the graveyard. The graveyard is a
reservoir of ancestry that will help to activate the men's strength. Each of the men has family
members buried there. Many of the ancestors had painful lives, such as Jacob's sister who was
murdered by local whites. Still, the gravestones allow the men to connect to their past before

they undertake one of the braver moments of their lives. Just as the visit strengthens them, so to
does it suggest the way that current action can liberate the past. The ancestors of these men
may have suffered, but current potential for action among the living may help to assuage their
woes. This meditative moment in the graveyard then both strengthens and affirms the men. The
memories of the pain that their family suffer will further spur them toward their goal, at the
same time the vision of their family's strong connection to the land lends them strength as they
act.
A final theme that arises in both of these chapters is the issue of the relevance of skin tone
within the black community itself. Cherry brings up the memory of Jacob Aguillard's sister, a
pretty mulatto girl whose family shunned her for hanging out with men who were too dark.
Clatoo, on the other hand, describes Mathu's snobbish preference for his coal black skin. This
discussion of skin tone highlights the fact that racial divisions are not just seen along black and
white lines. The white community, we have already seen, divides itself between Cajuns and
landowners. As Cherry and Clatoo explain, the black community also maintains a social rating
system: one that is based upon skin tone. Ironically however, the preference for a certain skin
tone within the black community is a form of subtle racism of its own. Gaines's careful
delineation of this issue shows the arbitrary nature of these social rating systems and suggests
the absurdity of judging any person by the color of their skin where white, black, or light or
dark. All such external means to measure a person's worth have no basis.

Chapter 8: Louis Alfred Dimoulin, aka Lou Dimes


Summary

Lou Dimes narrates this chapter. He has sped crazily to the plantation after he got Candy's
message. Upon reaching Mathu's house, he sees approximately eighteen old black men with
shotguns. He immediately speaks to Candy, who tells him that she murdered Beau. The
presence of the armed black men and Candy's confession send a shiver of panic down his spine.
Lou walks around the house and starts speaking to the men. The first one he addresses
immediately confesses to the crime. The second one does the same. Finally, Lou sees the
Reverend Jameson and asks him what is going on. The Reverend refers Lou back to Candy.
Lou tells Candy that she is lying about shooting Beau. Candy becomes furious. She explains
that she shot Beau after Beau beat Charlie, threatened Mathu, and insisted on walking on
Mathu's property. Candy had warned Beau not to approach Mathu but when he did anyway, she
shot him. Lou tells Candy that Fix is going to demand the blood of a black person for this crime
no matter what she says. She grows increasingly angry and tells him to go back to Baton Rouge
if he cannot deal with it. Suddenly the road fills with dust as Sheriff Mapes arrives.
Sheriff Mapes is a physically large man in his late sixties. He does not speak as he gets out of
the car, but takes in the situation. He then instructs his deputy Griffin to turn off the tractor that
is still running, to call and have Fix kept away from the plantation, and to finally arrange for
the removal of the body. Mapes remarks to Lou about the number of armed men. When Mapes
looks at Candy, she immediately confesses to killing Beau. Mapes does not respond. He orders
his deputy, Griffin, to bring one of the men over to him for questioning.
The deputy brings Billy Washington over, one of the oldest men there. Mapes refers to him as
Uncle Billy. When Billy confesses to shooting Beau, Mapes slaps him in the face. After Mapes
asks more questions and Billy confesses again, Mapes slaps him once more. Since he is getting
nowhere with Billy, Mapes tells Griffin to bring up another man. The deputy brings up Gable.
As did Billy, Gable also immediately claims to be the murderer. When Gable persists in his
confession, Mapes slaps him also. Gable responds sarcastically to being hit, which prompts
another blow. All the surrounding black men grin with Gable's attitude and Lou reflects that the
Sheriff will get nowhere by hitting people.
Next Griffin brings up Reverend Jameson. Reverend Jameson looks scared and nervously tells
the Sheriff that he has nothing to say. When the Reverend fails to say more, Mapes hits him as
well. In response to the blow, the Reverend falls to the ground. As he gets up slowly, the other
men form a line in front of Mapes so that he can question and hit them all. Candy stands at the
front of the line. Mapes moves away and talks to Lou. Mapes tells Lou that he believes that
Mathu killed Beau, as the only other possible suspect is Charlie, but Charlie is too cowardly.
With so many confessions, however, Mapes can arrest no one. Furthermore, Mapes knows that
Candy arranged for charade. Mapes asks Lou why Lou does not better control his girlfriend.
Lou reflects and realizes that Mapes does not think that he is much of a man.
The coroner arrives. The sight of the armed black men surprises him and his assistant, but

Mapes instructs them to just move the body and not to ask questions. The coroner places the
time of death as around noon. Mapes tells the coroner not to tell anyone in town that Beau is
dead. After the hearse leaves, Mapes orders everyone to move but no one complies. Billy
Washington then grows excited and yells to the Sheriff that he killed Beau. The Sheriff follows
up to Billy's assertion by questioning him deeply. Mapes points out that Billy could not have
killed Beau because Billy does not even live at Marshall and he is too old to shoot straight.
Billy tells Sheriff Mapes that he killed Beau because Beau crippled Billy's son in a beating
many years before, so that Billy's son now lives in a mental hospital. Mapes listens but
dismisses Billy's confession, before summoning Mathu over to him.
Analysis

This chapter is the first of three that Lou Dimes will narrate. Lou is Candy's boyfriend, a white
man who lives in Baton Rouge. Lou's voice is objective and journalistic. He provides a clear
understanding of what is happening at the scene. At the same time, he is still a white
Southerner who feels alarmed at the sight of many armed black men. Lou Dimes differs from
other Southern men however as we begin to see in this chapter. Although he has a relationship
with Candy, he does not appear to be the dominant member within it. Sheriff Mapes, in fact,
criticizes Lou's failure to control his woman. Lou is not interested in controlling Candy,
however. He is a Southern man, but unlike Sheriff Mapes, he is not interested in establishing
his manhood by subjugating others.
Sheriff Mapes is not an entirely bad man, but his need to establish himself by using violence
places him in the older Southern social order. Sheriff Mapes establishes his manhood by
exercising force against others. Ironically his violence appears to be more cowardly than it is
brave. The Sheriff fights these men, but not on equal grounds. His status as the enforcer of the
law protects him against any retaliation by the blacks. Sheriff Mapes takes advantage of his
position to persecute those lower than him, but only does so knowing that he is safe within his
position. His forcible blows against such old black men appear to be particularly harsh and
unnecessary, as these men are elderly and nonviolent. The image of the Reverend Jameson
falling in reaction to being struck seems particularly cruel. As these black men pose no threat,
the Sheriff's force is excessive and actually ridiculous. There is no doubt that his questioning
techniques are an outdated hangover from the days of the earlier South.
The ridiculous nature of the Sheriff's violence almost seems to be understood by the black men
themselves. Traditionally, the techniques used by the Sheriff would bring out truthful
confessions and frightened reactions, but not on this day. The fear upon which the Sheriff's
techniques once relied no longer seems to exist. Instead of groveling in response to the blows,
the old men laugh sarcastically. Instead of fleeing when Reverend Jameson falls to the ground,
the old men line up so that the Sheriff can more easily hit them. The Sheriff has no idea what to
do when his interrogating methods fail. His perplexity at not being obeyed as in the days of old
allow the old men around him to gain the upper hand.
Toward the end of the chapter, Billy Washington starts confessing and offering explanations
even without the Sheriff asking. In fact, the Sheriff is still flummoxed by the failure of the men
to heed his ways. Billy boldly screams out that he is Beau's murder and even explains why
Beau beat his son so badly years ago that Bill's son can no longer recognize his parents. Billy's

willingness to tell his story to the white Sheriff when not asked is an act of significant courage.
Traditionally, there was a racist social order that prevented blacks from speaking out of turn to
whites. Here, Billy not only speaks out of turn, but he also dredges up accusations of brutality
against a local white man. Billy's bold testimony is the first of many to come. His willingness
to speak inverts the common dynamics of dialogue between whites and blacks in the South.
While whites once stood as the master of language and speech, now Billy Washington does.
Billy Washington bravely rises and talks and Sheriff Mapes can do nothing but listen. This act
of articulation and storytelling is another way in which Billy has reasserted his manhood on
this day.

Chapter 9: Joseph Seabury, aka Rufe


Summary

Rufe, formally know as Joseph Seabury, narrates this chapter. Candy protests when Mapes calls
Mathu over for questioning, but Mathu complies. Rufe knows that Mapes likes Mathu and
considers him a real man, unlike the rest of them. Occasionally, Mathu and Mapes have even
gone hunting and fishing together. Upon reaching the Sheriff, Mathu immediately confesses.
Mapes accepts and agrees with Mathu's confession. Mapes tells Mathu to send the other men
home, but Mathu says that he cannot because the men have to do what they see is fit.
Clatoo interrupts Mapes and Mathu's conference by telling the Sheriff that he shot Beau. Dirty
Red and Johnny Paul soon after interrupt by saying that they did it. The Sheriff asks them why
they are getting militant. Jacob Aguillard stands up and says that he killed Beau because Beau
was involved in murdering his sister. Ding and Bing Lejeune next confess saying that they did
it because their niece was poisoned. Sheriff Mapes nods his head in response to these tales.
Johnny Paul then grows angry. He tells the Sheriff that the Sheriff does not understand what
happened because he has not been living and working on the plantation as they have for years.
The Sheriff knows little about the pains that they suffered. The Sheriff knows little about the
way that the Cajuns's agricultural mechanization displaced the vibrant black community that
once worked the land. For Johnny Paul, Beau lies dead today in order to compensate for what
they and their ancestors have suffered. The other blacks nod their heads in assent at Johnny
Paul's commentary.
Tucker then rises and tells the story of his brother, Silas. Silas was the last black sharecropper
in the district, which means that he leased a plot of land from the plantation and tried to profit
from its harvests on his own. He had been given the worst rocky piece of land, but he still
worked hard despite harassment from the whites. One day, he won a race by driving his two
mules faster than the Cajun's tractor. Silas, and all the other blacks, knew that he was supposed
to lose the race, but Silas refused to lower his pride and with his urging his mules out ran the
tractor. For this reason, the whites beat him to death with stacks of sugar cane. Local blacks
joined in as well, including Tucker, because they feared what would happen to them if they did
not. Tucker angrily asks Sheriff Mapes where the law was when crimes like this happened.
Sooner after Yank stands and describes how he used to break horses for everyone because he
was the best cowhand around. Now he shot Beau because Beau took those horses from him.
After this comment, Griffin, the deputy, starts to complain about what the black men are
saying. He suggests that the Sheriff make them shut up. The Sheriff tells him to be quiet. Gable
next rises and says that local whites dragged his sixteen year old son in for raping a white trash
girl who was obviously lying. The whites strapped his son to an electric chair, but it
malfunctioned. When Gable arrived to claim his son's body, he found his son still alive with the
whites kicking the electric chair so that it would work. They made Gable wait outside until they
got the chair to work and killed his son. Gable says that he killed Beau in retribution for the
murder of his own child, even though Beau was not actually the one who pulled the switch.
No one speaks after Gable finishes. Soon after, Coot, who is wearing an old uniform from

World War I, rises. He fought in the First World War having been trained in France and
ultimately earned a medal for his valor in battle. After getting home, the local whites told him
that he better not wear the medal that showed that he had killed white folks. Coot remembers
that local whites killed a friend's son after World War II for having a picture of him with a
German girl and that the federal government refused to bury a local black boy in Arlington,
even though he had saved his platoon in Korea by jumping on a grenade. Coot remembers how
surprised the white German soldiers looked when they saw black soldiers shooting at them and
he flushes with pride at his story.
The Reverend Jameson then starts criticizing Mapes for not taking people in and doing his
duty. Other people yell at the Reverend and tell him to go home and be quiet. One woman,
Beulah, starts arguing with the Reverend and says that she could tell stories about what happens
to women in those parts that would make their hair stand on their heads. Mapes declines her
offer. Mapes explains to everyone that all of their stories may have basis but there is no proof
that Fix ever was involved in them. The blacks laugh and say that blacks long have been
lynched on insufficient evidence. When Mapes suggests that he could just take someone in,
Candy volunteers herself. The Sheriff and everyone else settle down and decide to wait for the
storm that they think will be coming.
Analysis

This chapter is the emotional center of the novel. It is at this moment that the old black men at
the Marshall Plantation rise up defiantly against the social system that has entrapped them.
They do so by forcing the Sheriff to listen to their stories.
Nine of the eighteen men stand up in this chapter to describe the pains they suffered over the
years. As a communal statement, these men suggest that Beau lies dead in retribution for all of
the crimes against them. The willingness of these men to rise up and tell their stories, as Billy
Washington did before them, represents a forceful act of defiance. Again, traditional social
mores dictated that black people only speak to whites when they are spoken too. Here the
blacks take the upper hand by dominating the dialogue and forcing the Sheriff to listen. The
Sheriff takes this shift in verbal patterns calmly. A more traditional reaction can be seen with
his deputy Griffin, who grows angry and irritated that these old men are speaking so much.
Griffin's criticism of the Sheriff's inaction testifies to the power of the black men's speech.
Ernest Gaines first gave them power by making them narrators; in this chapter, he grants them
the further power of being storytellers. The men are telling their own history in their own
subjective ways. All together their tales weave a collective narrative of the African-American
experience in Bayonne Louisiana since the times of slavery. Their ability to use speech to fight
the silence that previously oppressed them is the first major tool that they use this day to
redefine their manhood.
Several of the men's stories further detail the way in which the Cajuns altered the blacks'
traditional relationship with the land. Johnny Paul evokes the image of a vibrant plantation that
where the blacks once nourished the land while the land nourished them. His observations of
the weeds surrounding Mathu's house suggest the deterioration of the once healthy plantation.
Since the Bauton family took over and brought in machines to farm, the blacks have been
slowly forced from the land because they have had no work. In the olden days, these weeds

would not have existed because the people living on the land would be carefully maintaining it.
With the arrival of the Cajuns, however, the plantation has fallen apart.
The Cajun tractor takes on important symbolism in Tucker's story of his brother Silas. Silas
farmed his plot of land in the traditional way, with mules and his own hands. When challenged
to a race with the Cajuns, Silas's determination made his mules outrun the white men's motor.
Silas died for his audacious act of beating the tractor. Furthermore, he died by being beaten to
death with stalks of sugar cane. This sugar cane once nourished the black community when they
farmed it for centuries. Symbolically Silas's death by the same cane suggests that with the
onset of mechanization, the local blacks can no longer survive. Silas's farming techniques may
have been superior just as his mule cart was faster than the tractor, but this superiority does not
matter. The Cajun control of the plantation will slowly force all of the blacks out. The land that
once fed them will no longer nourish them. The sugar cane that they once relied on will now be
turned against them and may even contribute to their deaths, as it did for Silas.
For the most part, the stories that the men tell in this chapter describe painful histories of
lynchings, murders, rapes, and beatings. Together these stories weave together into a collective
cry of pain. On the level of the story, the narrators are forcing the Sheriff, his deputy, and even
Candy and Lou to listen to all the things that they were previously not supposed to discuss. On
an textual level, Ernest Gaines is doing the same thing. By evoking specific tales of brutality in
the South, Ernest Gaines, like the old men in the novel, is shattering the silence that long veiled
those crimes. While the old men at the Marshall Plantation have just a small audience to
entertain, Ernest Gaines is able to direct his monologue to the entire literate English-speaking
world. His powerful persistence in naming those actions that generally remain under recorded
in American history textbooks, again relates to the African-American motif of expanding
American history so that it accurately includes the experience of all of its members. Within the
text and outside of it then, Gaines illustrates the way in which the control over language can
alter traditional power dynamics by allowing for redefinition.

Chapter 10 and 11
Summary

Chapter 10: Thomas Vincent Sullivan, aka Sully or T.V.


Sully is walking out of science class with Gil when Cal comes up to them and tells Gil that the
coach wants to see him right away. Gil and Cal are star football players on the Louisiana State
University team. Together they are known as Salt and Pepper as Gil is white, a Cajun, and Cal
is black. As fullback and halfback, the success of the two depends upon their interaction. Gil
dreams of becoming all-American this year, but much will depend on what happens in their
important football game the following day against Ole Miss. Sully is a white freckled Irish
third-string quarterback who is called T.V. because he is a self-described television nut.
Cal and Sully wait outside as Gil speaks to the coach. When Gil comes out, he looks very upset.
Gil tells them that his brother, Beau, has been murdered. Gil treats Cal coldly when Cal tries to
comfort him, which astonishes Cal and Sully because Gil and Cal generally are best friends.
Sully offers to drive Gil home and the two leave Cal standing in the hall.
Sully learns in the car that the black people at the Marshall plantation may have killed Beau,
which is why Gil treated Cal in such a cold manner. Sully knows about the reputation of Gil's
father, Fix, and wonders if Gil will now act in a brutal racist way. Gil directs Sully down a road
and Sully realizes that they have reached the Marshall Plantation. The deputy who is blocking
the road recognizes Gil and lets him in, wishing him good luck in tomorrow's football game.
Sully stops his car next to that of Lou Dimes's, whom Sully recognizes as a former LSU
basketball star and current journalist in Baton Rouge.
Getting out of the car, Sully and Gil halt in surprise when they see the group of old men with
shotguns in the yard. Sully thinks that the scene resembles something from "the Twilight
Zone." Sheriff Mapes sees Gil and tells him that his brother has already been taken to Bayonne.
Mapes is friendly to Gil, but tells him that his other deputy, Russell, is keeping Gil's father Fix
back on the bayou. Gil questions Mapes as to why no justice has yet been served, but Mapes
explains that he knows who did it and he will bring the person in before the day's end. Gil is
upset. He sees Mathu and addresses him: Mathu confesses to the murder. Gil looks confused.
Candy then tells Gil her story of how she shot Beau. Gil looks stunned and tells Candy that she
is lying. He tells Candy that she never liked his family and always acted like she was made of
better blood than them, but that she is not. Gil tells Candy that she is pathetic and sad. As he
breaks down emotionally, Sully drives him away.
Chapter 11: Lou Dimes
Lou Dimes narrates this chapter. Everyone in the yard is still sitting around waiting for Fix to
come, and it is now late afternoon. The crowd sees dust on the road indicating that a car is
arriving and Lou suddenly feels nervous. The car, however, is Miss Merle's. She has brought
sandwiches for everyone. The crowd is hungry and eats eagerly
Miss Merle starts criticizing Lou for his inability to control Candy. She asks him what type of

husband he will be if he acts like he does. She next starts commenting to Candy about this
charade that she has put on. Lou thinks about how Miss Merle and Mathu essentially raised
Candy after her mother and father died. Although Miss Bea and Jack Marshall, the Major, were
her aunt and uncle, Miss Merle and Mathu realized that those two were not up for the task. For
this reason, Mathu took to educating her about the plantation and the people who lived on it.
Miss Merle tried to teach her how to be a lady. Miss Merle essentially is Candy's surrogate
mother that explains why she is acting so concerned. Miss Merle again expresses her fears
about Fix coming to revenge Beau's death. Miss Merle leaves quickly. Mapes walks her to the
car and talks with her. The sun is going down.
Analysis

The narrative shifts with this chapter from narrators who live on the plantation to one who does
not. Sully, or Thomas Sullivan, is completely unconnected to the events at the Marshall
plantation, but arrives to tell the story of Gil Bauton. Sully is a white man of Irish descent, an
important distinction that places him outside of the local Cajun and landowner populations.
Because he stands outside of these groups, Sully is able to achieve a somewhat objective
narrative.
Gil Bauton's role as a star football player depends upon his work with a black player, Cal. Their
nickname, Salt and Pepper, evokes their racial coloring. Gil is also Beau's brother and his
brother's murder makes Gil initially treat Cal with coldness. His racist treatment of Cal,
treating him poorly simply because he is black, surprises both Sully and Cal. Gil's initial anger
at Cal demonstrates that even though Gil works closely with Cal everyday, his loyalties can
still quickly be divided along racial lines as has often been the trend in the South. Still, the
football duo of Salt and Pepper presents an important symbolic image of interracial harmony
that will be further developed in the novel.
In this chapter, the identity of the legendary Fix is finally exposed as Beau and Gil's father.
Sully knows that Gil's family has a racist past, and is not sure if Gil will go along with it. In
this section, Gil gives no indications on how he will act. His visit to the Marshall plantation
shows him as a sensitive young man mostly characterized by sadness and frustration. Gil seems
shocked at finding old black men with shotguns there and grows even more confused when
Candy confesses to the crime. Gil frustration arises from the dilemma which faces the entire
new South: how to achieve racial harmony when violent racism dominants the past. Gil thought
that he had been working in the right direction on the football team, but the death of his brother
casts his efforts in doubt.
The reappearance of Miss Merle shows her as a kindly character who has brought sandwiches
for everyone. At the same time, her behavior suggests that she is a matronly figure whose
benevolence toward the blacks exists in a slightly condescending light that maintains her own
social superiority. Miss Merle arrival, however, does allow for Lou Dimes to finally explain the
nature of her exact relationship with Candy. After the death of Candy's parents, Miss Merle and
Mathu essentially undertook Candy's education. Mathu's parenting of Candy, in particular,
presents an ironic situation, but one that has often existed in the South. Candy belongs to the
white master class, yet was raised by a member of the black underclass. Traditionally, this
relationship has existed between white children and older black women, or "mammy" figures.

William Faulkner himself had a mammy, Caroline Barr, to whom he was devoted; furthermore,
he popularized the importance of the relationship by having a black mammy narrate the final
chapter of The Sound and the Fury. The unique relationship between Mathu and Candy explains
why she has long felt devoted to him, at the same time that it suggests the problems that might
exist in their relationship. Candy's need to protect Mathu arises in part because of her affection,
yet it can also stem for her desire, as a plantation owner, to protect her people in a somewhat
condescending manner. In this way, Candy's behavior may be less unique and genuine than
originally thought.

Chapter 12: Sully


Summary

Sully narrates this chapter. He drives Gil out to Boutan house on the bayou, an area that is filled
with Cajun families. Sully has gone there with Gil before and knows that Gil is very friendly
will all the people in the area both white and black. At the Boutan house, Russell, the Sheriff's
deputy, meets Sully and Gil in the yard. Russell tells Gil that he is keeping Gil's father, Fix, at
the house. Gil invites Russell inside.
The house is full of people. Gil greets his father and some other family members and
introduces Sully. Gil tells his father that he drove by the Marshall Plantation. He describes the
old black men with guns who appear to be waiting there for Fix. He tells everyone that Mathu
may have shot Beau. Some men in the room ask Fix why they have not left already to mete out
justice. One man is particularly vociferous, a man named Luke Will.
Gil goes on to tell his father that he does not think that they should handle the matter with their
own hands. Gil complains that he often has been associated with his family's violent past,
which he does not like. Gil also explains that his football playing depends upon his interaction
with a black player, Cal. He will not be All-American and win the game tomorrow if he gets
involved in illegal activities tonight. Gil tries to persuade his father that the days of lynchings
are over and that times have changed in the South.
Fix takes this news quietly and asks everyone in the room what they think of it. One of Gil's
brother's, Jean, also does not want violence because he owns a butcher store in Bayonne and
thinks it will hurt his business. Luke Will angrily labels Gil and Jean as cowards and demands
justice for Beau's death. Several other men in the room also grow angry at Gil's opinions. Fix
insists that as the head of the household he will decide what will happen, but he will not act
unless all his sons are behind him. Fix questions one of his old friends, Auguste. Auguste
concludes that they are old men now, but that they could still do something if they want. Fix
argues with Gil's loyalties to his family. He points to a grieving woman and child, Beau's
widow and son, near him. Gil insists that the law should handle it. Jean remains on Gil's side,
even though Luke Will and some other men in the room keep labeling them cowards.
Soon after, Fix grows angry that Gil and orders Gil to leave the house. Gil is deeply distressed
and insists that his ideas are not wrong. When he gets near the door, Russell, the deputy, tells
Gil that Gil is doing the right thing and justice will be better served for Beau's son if Gil plays
football the next day with Cal and shows the world that white and black people can work
together. Gil feels despondent and cannot decide what to do. He turns away Sully's request to
drive him somewhere.
Analysis

This chapter cuts to the core of issues behind racial violence within the South. The narrative
shifts to the heart of Cajun country, the Boutan's house. Sully emerges as a quasi-objective
narrator who will be able to record the people and dialogue without bias.

Boutan family reveals itself to be a strict patriarchy governed by Fix. When Gil arrives, the
gathered mourners direct him to where his father sits. Gil greets his father with a kiss on the
cheek. The family and the father have been waiting for Gil, their educated celebrated son who
lives in the city. While the family clearly dotes on Gil, with everyone, including Fix, still
calling him by a childish nickname "Gi-bear," Fix definitely controls this conference. Fix
insists that only the members of the family will speak and will make the decisions. Gil even
apologizes for bringing an outsider, Sully, to the home. The focus on family and Fix's presence
as a patriarch could be compared to scenes from the Godfather. Fix is entirely in control, but he
maintains that he will not act without the consent of his sons.
Fix and Gil Boutan are very different men who represent very different historical generations
of the American South. Fix represents that ways of the older South. He still is prepared to
maintain the subjugation of blacks with violence. He still longs for some type of revenge. Gil,
on the other hand, represents the new South. Gil's formidable years have arrived after the main
events in the Civil Rights movement. Gil understands the need for racial interdependence due
to his position on the football team. Gil urges his father and his family not to fight back with
violence, but to let the law have its way. Gil and Fix each have differing ideologies that cannot
co-exist. Fix does not like what Gil has to say, but ultimately Gil's ideas win. Fix is an old man
now and Gil represents the future. Gil's willingness to stand up and articulate his beliefs has
changed the course of action. Gil's success in this small matter is just a representation of the
way that similarly forward young Southern males could alter the historical systems of racism if
only they are brave enough to stand up and try.
Gil's successes do not arrive without pain, however. His father accuses him of being unfaithful
to the family and eventually orders him out of the house. Gil almost breaks down in tears
because he feels so torn by his diverging allegiances to family and conscience. The ties that
bind Gil to the violent history of the South are strong. But he is not alone. All Southerners and
in fact all Americans are equally tied to this country's racist past. As Gil does, Americans need
to try and liberate themselves from its confining bonds. Gaines's depiction of Gil's struggle
invokes James Joyce comment that "history is a nightmare from which I am trying to wake up."
Other African-American writers, such as Ralph Ellison, Ishmael Reed, and John Edgar
Wideman, have offered similar analyses. The struggle may be hard, but as Gil suggests it is
necessary for a more harmonious future. Gil's efforts will allow him to become an "AllAmerican" football player. Similar efforts by the country as a whole would allow for the true
possibility of becoming an all-American countrya country where races are measured equally
and can live with some type of harmony. But first, Americans must escape the confining burden
of their past.

Chapters 13 and 14
Summary of Chapter 13: Jacques Thibeaux, aka Tee Jack

Tee Jack, the owner of a local bar/general store on the bayou, narrates this chapter. Three
customers are currently in the bar: a man from Mississippi come to see the football game; a
quiet stranger; and Jack Marshall, owner of the Marshall Plantation. Jack Marshall comes to
the bar each afternoon to drink, but speaks infrequently to any of the Cajun crowd. Tee Jack
believes that Jack is trying to drink his family's history away. Tee Jack has heard about Beau's
murder but says nothing until another local customer named Robert appears. Robert and Tee
Jack start loudly discussing Beau's murder and speculating on the possibility of a lynching.
Jack Marshall admits that Beau is dead, but acts uninterested. Suddenly the customer who is a
quiet stranger speaks up and tells the other men that the days of lynching are over. Tee Jack is
surprised at this stranger's reproof.
Suddenly Luke Wilson arrives with four other men, all of whom work at the local cement
factory. Luke Wilson leads this small crew in regular actions against local blacks. Tee Jack
knows that they put snakes in black churches, and turn over black school buses. Luke orders a
bottle of whisky and some Cokes. He then approaches Jack Marshall and asks about the trouble
on the plantation. Marshall looks severely displeased to be speaking to someone of Luke
Wilson's quality. When Luke asks Marshall if Marshall is going to do something about one his
"niggers" killing a white man, Marshall does not respond. Luke suggests that he will do it for
Marshall. He also tells everyone that Fix is going to do nothing because of "his all-American
son." Tee Jack tells Luke that he must be lying because Fix has always done something. When
Luke grows angry at being called a liar, Tee Jack offers to buy their first bottle of whisky. As
Luke and his crew start mixing their drinks together, Tee Jack notices that the ice is getting
dirty since those men infrequently wash their hands despite the nature of their work.
The quiet stranger criticizes Luke Wilson's ideas and techniques, and Luke and his crew get
very angry. This stranger turns out to be a professor at Southwestern Louisiana University who
recently moved there from Texas, who, among other things, teaches black writing. As Jack
Marshall gets up to leave, the professor begs him to stop what might happen on his land.
Marshall looks annoyed. He tells the professor to go back to Texas if he cannot take it. Soon
after, Luke and his crew physically force the professor to leave. They then order another bottle
of whisky in order to get ready for that evening's lynching. As all the other customers have left
the store, Tee Jack feels slightly scared left alone with the Luke's crew, since he knows that
they would turn violent on him in a second.
Chapter 14: Albert Jackson, aka Rooster
Rooster, formally known as Albert Jackson, narrates this chapter. Back on the plantation,
Sheriff Mapes suddenly calls everyone together and appears to be in a good mood. He tells
them that Fix is not coming. No one believes him. Mapes laughs and explains that everyone
there, including himself, was thinking of what Fix would have done thirty years ago, but times
have changed. These days Fix's son helps racial relations by being part of a biracial football
duo called Salt and Pepper. The blacks once wanted racial harmony and now that it exists, Fix

is not coming and they will not have a chance for revenge.
Mapes then asks Mathu if he is ready and Mathu says yes. Everyone protests. Clatoo begs the
Sheriff for a few minutes to speak with Mathu inside. The Sheriff agrees. When Candy tries to
come inside, Clatoo tells her that she is not invited because it is just for the men. She grows
furious and will not move no matter what Mathu says to her. In her anger, she threatens to evict
everyone from the plantation. Mapes laughs and points out that Candy only acts like a savior
when everyone obeys and pays attention to her. Eventually, Lou pulls Candy off the top of the
stairs, physically carries her through the yard, and throws her in her car.
Once inside, Clatoo asks everyone what the men should do: fight, go downtown, or go home.
The men argue about these options for a while. Mathu then quiets everyone and tells them that
they have already done enough. At the beginning of the day, he thought that maybe they were
not all strong men since they had spent their lives running, but already he sees that he was
wrong. They already have proved themselves and should now just go home and let justice takes
its course. Mathu explains that the day has changed him too. Before he was just a cold- hearted
man who looked down on them, since he believed himself to be better, but now he has seen how
he was wrong. The men have respected and known Mathu for many years, so his statement is
powerful. Just as he is getting ready to leave the cabin, however, a voice calls from the kitchen
telling him to stop. It is Charlie. He tells Mathu, his godfather or "Parrain," that Mathu should
not have go. He tells everyone else to go get the Sheriff.
Analysis

Several complex issues relating to the local social classes become clear in this chapter. Tee
Jack is a thoughtful narrator who tries to deeply understand his customers. Tee Jack knows that
Jack Marshall looks down on the local Cajuns, but he sympathizes with Jack's desire to remain
constantly drunk. Tee Jack believes that Marshall drinks to run away from the burden of his
family's history. Unlike Gil Bauton, Jack refuses to embrace the changing world and chooses
instead to blur it with drink. In this manner Jack will simply live a useless existence while
continually sliding toward obsolescence. Jack's aloof unwillingness to confront change will
eventually phase out his social class.
Candy Marshall's status in a superior class becomes increasingly obvious in this section as
well. For most of the novel, Candy has acted like she is on a par with the local blacks. Yet in
many ways she is blind to her own social situation. Candy may love Mathu, but as a white
woman she has never believed himself a member of his social class. Her actions during the
novel appear to present her concern for her people, but with her protectionism she is actually
asserting a form of benevolent racism that allows her to remain in control. When Clatoo denies
Candy's ability to control by telling her that she cannot come to their meeting, she goes crazy.
All of her attempts to protect them disappear. Instead she starts hurling threats of eviction. Like
a child, she throws an immense tantrum and refuses to walk away from Mathu's house. It is
only after Lou physically forces Candy away from the door that the meeting can go on. Candy's
overly protective attitude of the men, especially Mathu, testifies to her inability to believe that
they can handle the crisis on their own shows that she too doubts their manhood. Candy
Marshall may appear to have been a friend, but there is no denying with this chapter that she is
also a member of the ruling white class.

The detailed discussion of Luke Will's character illustrates the opposite end of the local white
culture. Luke Will is a clear ruffian. Even Tee Jack, who generally sides with his customers,
frequently expresses his disdain and even fear of Luke. Luke and his crew are uneducated local
laborers who often prey upon local blacks. The scene in the bar exposes Luke as little more
than a childish brute. Luke's tendency to place snakes in black churches for example seems to
be the act of a child rather than a man; a real man would fight his foes face to face. Likewise,
Luke and his crew have come to the bar to get drunk before the lynching. Their need for drink
suggests that they would lack the courage needed for the act if they were sober. Luke Will and
his crew only can gather their courage by becoming a drunk mob. Overall they are local whites
that try to subjugate blacks in order to make themselves feel superior when they are not
superior. Tee Jack remarks many times upon the dirt that spreads from these men's hands to
their ice, as often they do not wash for days. Luke Will is a frightening, unsavory character. His
propensity for violence suggests his own lack of self-confidence and diminished manhood.
Finally, the character of Tee Jack is an important one in the local South as well. Tee Jack is a
thoughtful narrator, but he is not a great person. His primary concern is to support what his
customers want. When his customers discuss lynchings, Tee Jack happily joins in. When his
customers discuss the coming football game, Tee Jack does the same. Tee Jack is not interested
in rocking the boat. For this reason, Tee Jack is a man who will never be an instrument for
social change, and he will bend whichever way the wind blows. The world is made up of forests
of men like Tee Jack who are unwilling to question or act of their own accord. Unlike Gil
Bauton, Tee Jack will not be helping to change the South into a more racially harmonious
world. Tee Jack's attitude represents that of the masses and suggests the ensuing difficulty and
slowness with which social change in the South will come about.

Chapters 15 and 16
Summary

Chapter 15: Lou Dimes


Lou narrates this chapter. Darkness has fallen and Candy is sulking and still sitting in her car
where Lou forced her. He tells her that she might not like it but times are changing and Mathu
and she will be free from each other after tonight since they no longer need each other for
protection. He also tells her that she better tell him tonight if she will marry him or not, or else
he is not coming back. In response, she slaps him.
Gable has come out of the house and found Sheriff Mapes. Mapes summons everyone into the
house, including Candy and Lou. When they get inside, Lou sees Charlie, who is physically
enormous, sitting on Mathu's bed. The Sheriff makes everyone move so there is space and asks
Charlie to tell his story. Charlie states that he is now a man, so they should call him Mr. Biggs.
Mapes does so and asks for the story again.
Charlie had been working out in the field with Beau early in the day as he did everyday, helping
Beau haul the cane after it had been cut. Beau got angry with Charlie and started cussing at
him. Charlie, who had admittedly had been groveling before white people his whole life,
suddenly decided that he should not be spoken to in that way. He told Beau he was quitting and
started to walk away. Beau grabbed a stick of cane and hit Charlie with it. Charlie then
surprised Beau by grabbing a stick of cane and hitting Beau. Beau fell to the ground with blood
all over his head. Charlie ran to Mathu's, his godfather's, house because he thought he killed
Beau and needed help. Soon Charlie heard the tractor and knew that he had not killed Beau.
Charlie decided to run away, but Mathu told him that if he ran Mathu would beat him himself.
All of a sudden, Charlie saw Beau approaching with a shotgun in his hand. As he walked into
Mathu's yard, Beau put a shell in the barrel. Mathu handed Charlie his shotgun. Charlie gave
Beau a warning, but when Beau still lifted his weapon, Charlie pulled the trigger. As soon as
Beau fell, Charlie freaked out and begged Mathu to take the blame since Mathu was old and
going to die soon anyway. All of a sudden they heard Candy's car and Charlie ran behind the
house, leaving Mathu there with the gun. Charlie heard Candy start to scream and ask Mathu
what happened. Mathu said nothing however and never mentioned Charlie's name. Charlie ran
and ran way down into the bayou after that and lay in the mud for many hours. After a long
time of complete panic, Charlie heard a voice calling his name that seemed to be summoning
him back to Marshall. So Charlie came back to take properly the blame.
Mathu looks proud of Charlie when Charlie has finished. Lou feels stunned that the weak
Charlie could have murdered Beau. Charlie looks at Mapes and agrees to come to the jail. As
soon as they step outside, however, they hear Luke Will's voice telling the Sheriff to hand
Charlie over to them.
Chapter 16: Sidney Brooks, aka Coot
Coot narrates this chapter. As soon as Luke Will calls, Sheriff Mapes orders everyone to stay

inside and tells Charlie to hit the floor. Charlie says that he is not afraid of Luke Will. Charlie
moves his gun as to shoot at Luke Will. Mapes asks that he be allowed to handle it, since the
other men just have empty shotguns. The men then tell Mapes that although the Sheriff and
Candy thought that they only had empty shells, they had been filling their pockets with live
shells all afternoon. The old men are perfectly ready to shoot their way out of the situation.
Mapes is not pleased. Luke Will keeps on ordering the Sheriff not to move. Mapes's deputy,
Griffin, refuses to help Mapes by acting against a white man. As Mapes crosses the porch, a
shot rings out and Mapes falls to the ground.
Mapes is only lightly injured on his arm, but he stays on the ground rocking as if trying to get
up. Coot thinks that he is too fat to get up. The other men leave the house and hit the weeds.
Everyone starts shooting at the Luke Will and his crew. Some of the older men in the house,
such as Billy Washington, have trouble managing their rifles and shoot up the house instead of
their foes. The Cajuns have hidden down behind the tractor. The old black men spread out
through the weeds. Coot remembers the time when he fought as a soldier in the World War I
and thinks that he has not felt so good since then.
Analysis

These two chapters present the climax and the ensuing aftermath of the crisis. Charlie suddenly
has reappeared to confess to the crime. The assumption that everyone felt about Mathu being
the murderer is wrong. Ironically, the man who has long been considered the weakest of them
all, Charlie, killed Beau. In this one day, Charlie transformed himself from a weak servile
creature into a strong man. First he fought back against Beau's abuses. Second he decided not to
flee and returned to take confess to what he had done. Finally, when Luke Will finally arrives,
Charlie insists that he is not scared and starts to fire against the would-be lyncher. Charlie's
transformation testifies most strongly to his redefinition of black masculinity and manhood. On
a textual level, Charlie's alteration after the act of murder should be compared to that of
Richard Wright's Bigger Thomas from the classic novel, Native Son. In fact, the name that
Charlie asks everyone to call him in this chapter, Mr. Biggs, suggests his thematic kinship with
Bigger Thomas
The other old black men finally are also able to bring their masculinity into action here. The
Sheriff, Candy, and Lou all have believed that the old men came to the plantation simply to
confess for Mathu. With the arrival of Luke Will, however, it becomes clear that the blacks are
equally interested in fighting. The blacks have been secretly filling their pockets with live
shells all day long. The ability to load and fire their guns surprises Candy, the Sheriff, and Lou.
The whites assumed all day that the black men were toting empty shotguns around with them as
further symbols of their limited manhood. Here the men show that although old, they can still
load their weapons and fire at will. Their decision to fight against the whites shows that they
have fully transformed themselves into active brave creatures. With the narration of Coot, the
former soldier, the great pleasure that these men feel in fighting clearly comes across.
While the men assert their manhood, as the battle starts out the narrative tone also shifts
slightly to the absurd. Billy Washington, for example, cannot manage his gun and shoots up
much of the roof of Mathu's house. His inability to properly fire his gun is comic. The comic
tone appears ironic since serious issues of racial discrimination, miscarried justice, and

economic hardships have pervaded the novel. Still, the comic touch allows for a trenchant
commentary upon the situation at hand. Gaines evokes the concept of the absurd in part because
the scene is absurd. The old men fighting for revenge are in their seventies and eighties. The
local whites who have come to lynch them are basically the lowest of the low. The absurd
narrative tone suggests just how silly the situation is. The old men have been waiting all day for
the lynching and here at last it is. But times have changed, and the ways of the old South are
mostly over. The blacks' and whites' attempts to replay history in a more modern age can only
exist in a slightly ridiculous realm.

Chapter 1720
Summary

Chapter 17: Snookum


Snookum narrates this chapter. When the shooting starts, he dashes down the stairs, and under
the house. People are yelling everywhere as the shots ring out. Snookum sees Lou crawling
around the house. Lou tells Snookum to move toward the back of the house and stay down. Lou
approaches Sheriff Mapes who is still sitting where he fell. Lou tells Mapes that the deputy,
Griffin, has resigned. Mapes asks Lou if he wants the job. Mapes places Lou in charge of the
situation and tells Lou not to bother him anymore that night.
Chapter 18: Horace Thompson, aka Sharp
Sharp, who is a member of Luke Wilson's crew, narrates this chapter. He is hiding with the
other white Cajuns behind the tractor. They are all amazed that the black men on the property
have guns and are shooting at them. They cannot figure out how the blacks became so brave.
One of them, a young boy named Leroy, has been winged with a bullet and is crying
continually. Luke slaps Leroy in order to get him to shut up. Leroy yells for Mapes to help him
because he is white and he has been shot. Mapes gives Leroy no sympathy. Luke then asks
Mapes to help them get Leroy out of there. Mapes tells Luke that since Luke shot him, Luke
can figure out how to evade the bullets on his own.
Luke tells Sharp that they are almost out of bullets, but that he is going to fight back. Sharp
does not feel like getting himself killed over this situation and he knows that his attitude angers
Luke. Luke tells Sharp to take care of his wife and kids if something happens to him. Luke cries
out again to Mapes who refers Luke to Lou Dimes, who then refers Luke to Charlie. Charlie
tells Luke to watch out because Charlie is prepared to kill him like he did Beau. Faced with this
taunt, Luke decides that he will definitely try to kill Charlie no matter what. Luke leaves the
hiding place to search for him.
Chapter 19: Antoine Christopher, aka Dirty Red
Dirty Red narrates this chapter. He is lying in a ditch with Yank, Tucker, Chimley, and Charlie.
Dirty Red passes Charlie a cigarette. Charlie tells them that he is going to get Luke Will. The
other men tell Charlie that he could possibly get off for Beau's murder because it was selfdefense and that Mathu wants Charlie to stop. Charlie does not care. Charlie tells them that life
is great when one is no longer a coward. The other men start asking Charlie what he saw back
there in the swamps that made him so brave.
The fight has become a stand off between Charlie and Luke Will, both of who are out for one
another. Charlie eventually gets up and approaches Luke. Dirty Red hears a shot and sees
Charlie's body bend. Charlie keeps walking and shooting though. Soon after there are more
shots and Charlie falls to the ground. All is quiet. Lou Dimes runs over to the tractor and yells
that Luke has been killed. The black people all have gathered around Charlie. He is dead,
having been shot through the stomach. Everyone in the community touches his body and Glo

even makes her grandchildren touch him too.


Chapter 20: Lou Dimes
Lou narrates this chapter. Funerals for Beau Bauton, Charlie, and Luke Will all take place three
days later. Everyone involved in the shooting is put on trial, although the main culprits Charlie
and Luke Will are already dead. Candy hires a lawyer to defend the blacks. The Klan defends
Luke Will. All of the defendants look ridiculous having been scratched, sprained, or injured
during the melee, although only Leroy had been shot. Everyone scrubs himself or herself and
puts on their best clothes for the court.
When the trial began, blacks, whites, and media from around the nation packed the courtroom.
The Bauton family comes to watch (Gil had helped LSU win the game against Ole Miss, by the
way). The trial takes three days and often resembles a comic skit. All the blacks refer to each
other by their nicknames- Coot, Chimley, Roosterwhich makes the press laugh. Sheriff
Mapes also adds comic effect when he says that he could not control the scene because he
fallen on his butt in the yard and could not get up. Eventually, the jury comes to a verdict. The
judge places all the defendants, both black and white, on probation for five years.
When the trial ends, Candy asks Mathu if he wants a ride home but he declines. Mathu piles
into a truck with Clatoo and the others old men. Candy waves goodbye to them. As they leave,
Lou feels Candy squeezing her hand tightly against his in a reaffirmation of their relationship.
Analysis

The final chapters of the novel unfold quickly and grow increasingly with comic effect. Gaines
uses Snookum again as the narrator to describe the first sequence of the shooting. With
Snookum's childish tone, the seriousness of the shooting is diminished. From his vantage point
under the house, Snookum also is able to see the comic events that ensue. The deputy, Griffin,
resigns on the spot. Sheriff Mapes is only lightly injured but refuses to get up and calm the
situation. The Sheriff places Lou Dimes in charge of the crisis and asks to be bothered no more.
The Sheriff's unwillingness to get personally involved in the shootout shows that he wants the
two crews to work it out without his help. The old black men have a burning desire for revenge
due to their histories and the young Cajuns want the same thing. Sheriff Mapes views the entire
situation as ridiculous and therefore resolves to just stay seated on the lawn. His injury is not so
serious that he could not get up if he wanted to.
The shift of the narration to Sharp, one of the Cajuns, provides a unique perspective into the
lynch mob's mind. All of them are astonished that the blacks are shooting. Sharp expresses his
unwillingness to be killed while avenging Beau. Leroy, the youth, moans uncontrollably after
being lightly wounded. Only Luke Will maintains a fierce desire for vengeance. Luke cannot
just let Charlie walk away. The other Cajuns basically show themselves to be cowards who are
only interested in the lynching when the blacks come peacefully and the whites have the upper
hand. Luke Will is a ruffian, but his pride and unwillingness to back down from Charlie's
challenge will finally lead to his death. During the battle, the Cajuns hide behind Beau Bauton's
tractor, an appropriate symbolic location. This tractor, as we have seen earlier in the novel,
represents the mechanized change that the Cajun farmers brought to the area and the

detrimental effect that it had on the blacks. The blacks end up shooting at the tractor their
symbolic enemy as they are attempting to hit the whites.
Both Luke Will and Charlie are killed during the shooting, but their deaths are not sad events.
Luke Will always has appeared a nasty character and little sadness can be felt at his death.
Charlie has not been present for most of the novel and furthermore becomes martyred with his
death. Charlie died while pursuing courage and black masculinity. His courage so impressed
everyone that they lay their hands upon his dead body after he dies. The entire book discusses
the issue of black masculinity, but Charlie represents the ultimate black male transformed. In
just one day, he transformed himself from a sniveling coward to a man willing to stand up and
fight for his self.
Lou Dimes narrates the final chapter with a light comic tone. The trial sets the town laughing
with stories of the Sheriff's injury and the blacks' names. The tone is comic, but the verdict
signifies a marked change in the way justice is processed in the South. All of the men involved
in the shooting, both white and black, received the same punishment for the same crime. This
equal distribution of justice is inconsistent with the traditionally racist justice system of the
era. With this final comic trial, Gaines highlights the way that the South truly has changed.
Throughout the novel the old men, both white and black, have expected Beau's death to be dealt
with the way that it would have been dealt with in the past. But they had not adjusted to the
changing social times. This trial confirms that the change is real. Gil Bauton plays football with
a black partner, and justice is equally served, suggesting that the ways of the old South are on
their way out.
The chapter's final mention of Candy and Mathu demonstrates also the way that they have
changed through the novel. Candy longed to protect Mathu throughout the book, but actually
reinforced her position as a socially superior white by doing so. Candy's willingness to let
Mathu drive home with the other blacks differs from her cloying protection of him throughout
the rest of the novel. At the same time, Mathu too has changed. Previously he shunned the skin
color of the other blacks and closely aligned himself with the Marshalls in a superior way. Now
he believes himself the equal of the other black men and goes with them. In the final action of
the novel, Candy grasps Lou's hand affectionately. With this grasp, it seems that Candy will
consent to become his wife, as he desires. She has been ornery and feisty throughout the book,
but she too has changed and is finally able to release herself from her own outdated notions of
how the blacks on her plantation can only survive underneath her protection. As she releases
her stubborn independence, she will likely be better suited to join with another in marriage.

Important Quotations Explained


"He works in mysterious ways, don't He."
Mat makes this statement to Chimley in Chapter 4 after learning about Beau's murder. Mat
believes that Beau's murder has presented a special opportunity to both Chimley and himself:
the opportunity to redefine themselves. Both Mat and Chimley now are old men, who have
spent much of their life being psychologically and physically beaten down by the racist
restrictions of the South. Suddenly with the crisis at hand, God is granting them one last
opportunity to make something of themselves. By confessing to Beau's murder, by standing up
for their friend, and by not yielding to the local whites, the men will be able to throw off their
identities as cowards and bravely stand up for something. Because the men will be able to
salvage their dignity before dying, Mat believes that Beau's murder represents some strange
form of a blessing from God. Both Mat and Chimley rejoice in being given the chance to show
the strong men that they truly are.
In my old age, specially in grinding, when I saw an empty cane field, it always made me
feel lonely. The rows looked so naked and gray and lonely-like an old house where the
people moved from.
Cherry makes this statement in Chapter 6 as the men are walking toward the Marshall
Plantation to help Mathu. The cleared sugar cane field reminds Cherry of the times that have
past. The sugar cane once represented the livelihood for the blacks. Although their work was
not easy, the entire community lived and worked together on the plantation. Their work bound
them together as did their stories and songs. In those days, people of all ages worked the soil
and the black community was vibrant and thriving. Since the arrival of the Cajuns, the black's
relationship to cane has changed. The Cajuns brought tractors to work the land, thereby
reducing the need for physical laborers. The tractors displaced many of the local blacks such
that the only people left on the plantation are very old men and a few young children. With no
middle aged adult population, the days of the thriving black community has ended. Now the
sugar cane is growing wilder since less people care for it. Cherry compares the clear cane field
to an empty house that friends have moved out of. His comparison is virtually literal, since the
original black community has almost completely left its original house, the plantation land.
Cherry feels sad since his community seems to be dying, whereas it was once constantly
replenished with life.
"Yes, sir," Johnny Paul said. "But you still don't see. Yes, sir, what you see is the weeds,
but you don't see what we don't see."
Johnny Paul makes this statement in Chapter 9. He is trying to explain to the Sheriff that the
Sheriff truly does not understand the pain that the black community has suffered on the
plantation. For Johnny Paul and the other men, Beau's murder took place because of a
culmination of injustice against blacks. Although Beau is only one man, he represents all the
white men who subjugated the blacks throughout the years. When Johnny Paul looks at the
plantation, he "does not see" what used to be there. Some of those things were his ancestors
toiling in difficulty and pain. At the same time, what also used to be there was a vibrant black

community that united together as they worked the land. When Johnny Paul looks at the weeds,
he sees the plantation when it had no weeds before it was deteriorating and the houses were
rotting. In the days before the Cajuns had pushed the blacks away from farming, few weeds
existed on the plantation because the people who worked the land lived on it. With these
memories, Johnny Paul does not sentimentalize the difficulties of their past, but he does
remember the value of a community bound by mutual respect. It is the memory of all these
things that Johnny Paul no longer sees on the plantation. With this statement Johnny Paul tries
to point out to the Sheriff that the Sheriff never understood them because he has never truly
understood all that they had and all that the suffered. For Johnny Paul, both their suffering and
their past successes are the reason the Beau Baton has been murdered.
He looked around at all of them. "Won't it ever stop? I do all I can to stop it. Every day of
my life, I do all I can to stop it. Won't it ever stop?"
This statement by Gil Boutan at the end of Chapter 10 is a poignant cry for racial harmony in
the South. Gil is emotionally breaking down after visiting the location where his brother was
murdered. Gil finds a crowd of armed black men waiting and he finds Candy Marshall who
confesses to the crime. Gil sees the structures of racial separation and violence that surround
him and cries out with his pain about it all. Gil feels that he has been helping to improve race
relations by pairing himself with a black player on the football team. Gil is a character caught
by the violent racist history of the South, as are all people in the South. The historical violence
in Gil's family makes his imprisonment in their legacy particularly obvious. Gil wants to
remain within his family, but longs to free himself from their history so that racial harmony
can thrive. Gil's cry presents the need for Southerners to free themselves from their historical
bounds. It is only through the means of such liberation that future harmony can occur.
"I leaned over and touched him, hoping that some of that stuff he had found back there in
the swamps might rub off on me."
Dirty Red says this line at the end of Chapter 19 when he reaches over to touch Charlie's dead
body. The "stuff" that Dirty Red is trying to obtain is the courage and fierceness that Charlie
seems to have gathered back when he was hiding in the swamps. Traditionally, Charlie was the
weakest and most cowardly black man on the plantation. The community is astonished at his
transformation first into the murderer of Beau Boutan, and next into the fiercest fighter in the
final shootout with the whites. Ever since Charlie returned from the swamp, he has acted like a
man who knows no fear. His bravery impresses everyone so much that they wonder if some
physical "stuff" brought about his transformation. Charlie's fearlessness is the stuff that Dirty
Red wants to gather for himself. In fact, everyone wants some of it. After Dirty Red touches
Charlie's body, everyone in the community does including young Snookum and his siblings. All
of the people pay homage to Charlie for his bravery, courage, and manhood by laying their
hands on his body.

Key Facts
full title A Gathering of Old Men
author Ernest J. Gaines
type of work Novel
genre African-American novel; Southern novel; American modern novel
language English
time and place written Southwestern Louisiana, 19801982
date of first publication 1983
publisher Alfred A. Knopf
narrator There are fifteen different narrators in the novel. They are: Snookum, Janey, Miss
Merle, Chimley, Mat, Cherry, Clatoo, Lou Dimes, Rufe, Sully, Tee Jack, Rooster, Coot, Sharp,
and Dirty Red. Lou Dimes, Sully, and Snookum each narrate more than one chapter.
point of view The fifteen different narrators all describe the events as they see them. These
narrators often speak in the first person as they describe their thoughts and ideas. Usually, they
speak in the third person about the other characters.
tone The tone varies according to the character that is narrating the section. Each narrator has
a unique voice that matches their identity, with appropriate Southern dialects depending on
their race and social class. Toward the end of the book, the tone grows more comedic as the
author attempts to bring out notions of absurdity in the final battle and the subsequent trial.
tense Present tense, with some history given in the past
setting (time) Late 1970s.
setting (place) The Marshall Plantation located near the town of Bayonne in Southwestern
Louisiana.
protagonist Candy Marshall
major conflict The discovery of who killed Beau Bauton and how justice will be served.
rising action The gathering of the men at the plantation, the meeting between Gil Bauton and
his father Fix, the preparation of Luke Will and his crew at a local bar.
climax The confession of Charlie and the arrival of Luke Will and his crew for a lynching

falling action The refusal of Sheriff Mapes or Charlie to give in, the shootout between blacks
and whites, the death of Charlie and Luke Will, the trial
themes Redefining black manhood; Changes in social and economic status; Racial
interdependence
motifs Double consciousness; Social distinctions in race; Storytelling
symbols Tractor; Sugar cane; Guns
foreshadowing Beau's initial murder, everyone's expectation of Fix's arrival, Candy's appeal
for the gathering of old men

Study Questions and Suggested Essay Topics


Study Questions
Each chapter of the novel is told by a different narrator. Discuss the effect that this narrative
technique creates. To what purpose does it serve?
On the most obvious level, the multiple narrators allow for the story to be told in a communal
rather than an individual way. Gaines has carefully selected these narrators across a broad
spectrum. They are black, white, male, female, young, old, educated, not educated, liberal, and
racist. Each of these narrators understands the murder of Beau Bauton in a different manner.
When their different perspectives are placed side by side, the reader is able to understand the
novel's events from not just one, but from multiple points of view. Furthermore, the ability to
see into fifteen characters' minds as they speak in the first person allows for the reader to
become intimately acquainted with them. This ability becomes especially important with the
old black men who narrate. When the thoughts of these old men are visible, it becomes clear
that most of these men have operated for years with a dual consciousness. They have lived in a
world of silent acceptance but entertained dreams of action in their mind. By giving each of
these old men voice, Gaines allows them the opportunity to finally tell their stories.
Storytelling is a theme within the book, and a motif that persists in African-American
literature. The importance of mastering language and its connection to self-realization can be
seen in African-American texts from The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass to the The
Invisible Man. Most of the old men in Gaines's novel are not literate, meaning that they will
never write their own stories. By granting them narrative control with his novel, Gaines grants
them the power of self-definition. For these old men, the act of defining themselves with words
is as important as redefining themselves with action. Overall, Gaines's narrative technique
allows for a complex rendition of his Louisiana community where the perspectives of all
characters, white, black, and Cajun, can be known with a greater complexity than if they were
not able to explain themselves in their own words.
Many of the old men express gratitude for the fact that they can confess to Beau's murder, even
though they did not kill him. Why would they feel grateful when they could be possibly
punished for their confessions?
The old men feel gratitude for the chance to confess because it will allow them to redefine
themselves. These men have spent their lives trying to avoid trouble with the local whites. The
racist system of the South long has relegated them to a subhuman existence. Now in their final
years, Beau's murder gives these men the opportunity to salvage some of their dignity before
they die. Suddenly these old men are prepared to rise up and fight against the injustice that they
have suffered through the years. By deciding to help Mathu, these men are seizing power over
their lives and reaffirming their humanity and their manhood. Although there is only one
murderer of Beau, each black man has longed to commit the same murder in his mind. Beau is
only one man, but he represents all of the white men who have subjugated the blacks over the
years. To claim to have killed Beau provides each man with the chance to revenge a social
order that has disdained and abused him. The murder of Beau allows the men to act and through
their action they are able to discard the cowardice that has haunted them for many years. It is

their ability to now take a stand for themselves and against their previous persecution that
makes them grateful.
Discuss the character of Gil Bauton. Discuss the symbolism of his role in the "Salt and Pepper"
duo on the Louisiana State Football Team.
Gil Bauton is a white Louisianan who represents the new South. As a football halfback, his
offensive moves depend upon the work of Cal Harrison, a black running back. Because of their
white and black combination, the press has labeled them "Salt and Pepper." Gil and Cal
together have made the Louisiana State Team a success. Gaines compares the dependency of
these two players to the dependency of two hands on a baseball bat: without one another neither
would succeed. The success of their combination has made the issue of their races unimportant.
The racial unity that they symbolize has caught the attention of the black and white
communities of local Baton Rouge, as well as the rest of the country. Gil Bauton's desire to
become an "All-American" player also depends upon his work with Cal. It is only by working
together that the two men can become All-American. Effectively, Gaines suggests with this
symbolism that true Americanism can only be found with racial unity and cooperation, not
division. Just as Cal and Gil work together on the football field, so too must whites and blacks
work together in the South and in the entire country. It is only through such joint cooperation
that all Americans can become all-American. Gil and Cal's football duo represents the
possibility of future of racial harmony in the United States.
Suggested Essay Topics
Although book seems to deal mostly with men, black women are quiet but still strong
characters in the novel. Discuss their role.
The book deals with many serious issues of miscarried justice. What do you think of the judge's
final verdict? Why does the author choose to close the book with a comical courtroom scene
after dealing with such serious issues?
Gaines frequently reports upon how the blacks have different skin tones. Why does Gaines
think that this fact is important? Using at least three blacks as examples discuss their skin color
in relation to their personality and the community.
On the way to Mathu's house, why do the old men linger in the cemetery? What does the
graveyard represent?
Sheriff Mapes sits down and seems to give up during the shootout even though he is barely
hurt. Why does he do this?
Discuss the character of Jack Marshall. Why does he spend his days in a drunken stupor? How
do his daily actions relate to his family's history?

Quiz
Which character has just been murdered when the book begins?
(A) Mathu
(B) Beau Baton
(C) Rufe
(D) Lou Dimes
(E) Sully
Who does Sheriff Mapes thinks murdered Beau?
(A) Mathu
(B) Candy
(C) Johnny Paul
(D) Rufe
(E) Clatoo
Who actually murdered Beau?
(A) Candy
(B) Billy Washington
(C) Charlie
(D) Snookum
(E) Dirty Red
Who owns the Marshall Plantation?
(A) Beau Bauton
(B) Candy, Jack, and Bea Marshall
(C) Miss Merle
(D) Lou Dimes
(E) Fix Bauton
Why does Fix decide not to revenge his son's death?
(A) Because his sons will not all come with him
(B) Because he feels that the law should take of it
(C) Because he feels too old
(D) Because Beau's wife does not want him to go
(E) Because the deputy detains him
Why doesn't Mapes immediately arrest someone for the crime?
(A) Because he cannot figure out who did it
(B) Because he is busy fishing
(C) Because Candy begs him not to

(D) Because everyone at the farm confesses to the crime


(E) Because he the murderer runs away
Who is Candy's boyfriend?
(A) Mathu
(B) Gil Bauton
(C) Sully
(D) Tee Jack
(E) Lou Dimes
Who is Candy most trying to protect?
(A) Snookum
(B) Janey
(C) Lou
(D) Mathu
(E) Charlie
Which black man thinks that everyone should just go home and not fight?
(A) Reverend Jameson
(B) Clatoo
(C) Chimley
(D) Dirty Red
(E) Cherry
Why does everyone in the area know Gil Bauton?
(A) Because he is a star football player on the Louisiana State University team
(B) Because he is really good looking
(C) Because he has a violent past
(D) Because is a civil rights activist
(E) Because everyone really likes him
What characters are killed during the shootout?
(A) Charlie and Luke Will
(B) Sheriff Mapes and Charlie
(C) Charlie, Luke Will, and Leroy
(D) Mathu and Clatoo
(E) Candy
What crop is primarily grown on the plantation?
(A) Cotton
(B) Potatoes
(C) Wheat

(D) Sugar Cane


(E) Sorghum
Who runs the local bar/corner store?
(A) Lou Dimes
(B) Clatoo
(C) Gil Boutan
(D) Tee Jack
(E) Luke Will
Who is the maid in the Marshall house?
(A) Glo
(B) Miss Merle
(C) Candy
(D) Janey
(E) Beulah
Who is the child narrator in the novel?
(A) Clatoo
(B) Dirty Red
(C) Chimley
(D) Snookum
(E) Billy Washington
Which character fought during the First World War?
(A) Clatoo
(B) Bill Washington
(C) Johnny Paul
(D) Coot
(E) Dirty Red
Which characters are shot but not killed during the shootout?
(A) Candy and Lou
(B) Mathu and Charlie
(C) Clatoo, Sheriff Mapes, and Dirty Red
(D) Sheriff Mapes and Leroy
(E) Luke Will and Bill Washington
What does Jack Marshall do after Beau's murder?
(A) Investigate into the crime
(B) Alert the Sheriff
(C) Order Candy to return to the house

(D) Get drunk


(E) Beat up Mathu who he thinks committed the crime
Which people took over Candy's education after her parents' death?
(A) The Bautons
(B) Bea and Jack Marshall
(C) Lou Dimes and his family
(D) Miss Merle and Mathu
(E) Reverend Jameson and his wife
Who leads the crew to revenge Beau's death?
(A) Fix Boutan
(B) Sharp
(C) Tee Jack
(D) Luke Will
(E) Gil Boutan
What do the would-be lynchers do before going to the plantation?
(A) Buy new shotguns
(B) Consult the Sheriff
(C) Go fishing
(D) Get drunk
(E) Eat dinner
What does Candy want the men to bring to Mathu's house?
(A) Dinner
(B) Beer
(C) A runaway car
(D) Twelve gauge shotguns
(E) Their wives
Who does not confess to killing Beau Boutan?
(A) Candy
(B) Mathu
(C) Mathu
(D) Reverend Jameson
(E) Charlie
Why does everyone think that Mathu killed Beau?
(A) Because Mathu confessed
(B) Because Mathu's clothes were stained with blood
(C) Because Mathu ran away from the crime scene

(D) Because Mathu is the only one who ever stood up to whites
(E) Because Mathu had a history of fighting with Beau
What does Miss Merle bring to the plantation in the afternoon?
(A) More shotguns
(B) More live shells
(C) The Sheriff
(D) Sandwiches
(E) A note from Fix Boutan

Suggestions for Further Reading


Auger, Philip. Native Sons in No Man's Land: Re-Writing Afro-American Manhood in the
Novels of Bladwin, Walker, Wideman, and Gaines. New York: Garland Press, 2000.
Babb, Valerie Melissa. Ernest Gaines. Boston: Twayne, 1991.
Beavers, Herman, "Tilling the Soil to Find Ourselves: Labor, Memory, and Identity in Ernest J.
Gaines's Of Love and Dust." Memory and Cultural Politics: New Approaches to American Ethic
Literatures. Edited by Amritgit Singh and Joseph Skerret, Jr. Boston: Northeastern University
Press, 1996.
Beavers, Herman. Wrestling Angels into Song: the Fictions of Ernest J. Gaines and James Alan
McPherson. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995.
Carmean, Karen. Ernest J. Gaines: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press,
1998.
Estes, David, ed. Critical Reflections on the Fiction of Ernest J. Gaines. Athens: University of
Georgia Press, 1994.
Gaudet, Marcia and Wooten, Carl. Porch Talk with Ernest Gaines: Conversations on the
Writer's Craft. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Press, 1990.
Jones, Suzanne W, "New Narratives of Southern Manhood: Race, Masculinity, and Closure in
Ernest Gaines's Fiction." The World is Our Culture: Society and Culture in Contemporary
Southern Writing. Edited by Jeffrey J. Folks. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2000.
Lowe, John. Conversations with Ernest Gaines. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1995.

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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 and 2
Chapter 3: Myrtle Bouchard, aka Miss Merle
Chapter 4 and 5
Chapter 8: Louis Alfred Dimoulin, aka Lou Dimes
Chapter 9: Joseph Seabury, aka Rufe
Chapter 10 and 11
Chapter 12: Sully
Chapter 1720