A gathering of Old Men written by Ernest J. Gaines gives an accurate portrayal of what the slave era was like. Gaines grew up on a plantation in Louisiana. He did not become a scholar until he moved to California in 1948. Learning opportunities for blacks during his era were hard to come by especially in south. While in California Gaines was able to attend college and would graduate from San Francisco State College in 1957. He would soon later become a published writer. ""Though the places in my stories and novels are imaginary ones, they are based pretty much on the place where I grew up and the surrounding areas where I worked went to school, and traveled as a child. My characters speak the way people speak in that area." (Gaines) His personal life struggles as a plantation worker and African American have helped him write a phenomenal read.
Gaines's book A Gathering of Old Men demonstrates the cultural relationships between the white and black community. The thing that I found the most appealing about this book was Gaines's ability to vividly depict the story setting. The story unfolds from many different characters prospectives. This is effective method of writing so that each character is able reveal deep feelings and thoughts with the reader. In this essay I will focus on the communities and their interactions with each other. In particular I will talk about race relations, the black community, and the white community.
Racial interdependence was nonexistent during this era. The black workers and white plantation owners did not want to associate with each other unless it was work related. It goes with out saying that these black laborers were mistreated. They have been subjected and mistreated their entire lives, including "Ã¢ÂÂ¦raped daughters, jailed sons, public insults, economic exploitationÃ¢ÂÂ¦"(Gale Research, Inc.) W.E.B DuBois, an early 20th century African-American scholar, coined the concept of a double consciousness to express the way in which blacks reserved one identity for themselves and one for the whites. This double consciousness of black personal identity existed due to the lack of interdependence between races. The problem with American culture is that it places a worth on everything including life. A slave laborer was not considered a precious life by farmers and therefore they were many times disregarded and mistreated. If the story would have taken place a few years earlier, I suspect there wouldn't even been a trial for the blacks. They would have been beating or possibly even lynched. Times are changing and little by little blacks are gaining more rights. Candy creates a bridge between the white plantation owners and the black laborers by sticking up for Mathu and confessing to the murder of a Cajun farm worker Beau Boutan. Later when Luke Wills and his followers come to lynch Mathu, the black men are armed. The men are standing up for them selves and what they believe in, Human Rights, and a right to a fair trial. They are taking the first step toward their independence and declaring their manhood.
The blacks have seen the suffering and killings of many of their family members. They take pride in the lightness of their skin, and the lack of blemishes (beating marks) on their skin. The black community is in many ways the same as the white community. They are supportive to each other and are willing to help when others are in need and respect the hierarchy of status. It seems as if the stronger individuals both physically and mentally are respected in the black community. Mathu believes that he is superior for being "pitch black." This type of superficial ego is also seen in the white community as well. Although there is some separation in the black community, they become unified once several of them confess to the murder crime. When the white men come to seek revenge and they are armed, their guns represent a single accord, a "gathering in mutual militant defense of one of their number who has been accused of killing (Aubert 148)."The whites are mainly divided into two groups, the white landowners and the Cajuns. The landowner's superiority is similar to the black's belief that lightness of skin is related to ones social status. The white community is predominantly dominated by male landowners. There is not much respect for women and even less for blacks. This social barrier between the black and whites is the main cause of conflict throughout the story. Things in the white community begin to look better when Fix, the father of Beau decides that he doesn't think lynching is an acceptable punishment for Mathu but rather a fair trial. This is the first step in the right direction towards equal rights for blacks.
It was interesting to see how white/black relationships have changed through the years and how far we have come from our ignorant past. Although there still exists discrimination between blacks and whites, but we have came leaps and bounds from then. Human Rights are now in place to protect all individual no matter what race. There is much more racial interdependence in today's society with all races working together. In communities are willing to accept and learn from each other then we will be able to avoid many violent acts and wars. Overall this book is a great read by a well-written and accredited author. It is highly recommended!Works CitedGaines, Enest J. A gathering of Old Men. New York: Vintage, 1992.
Gale Research Inc. Major Twentieth Century Writers: Ernest James Gaines. Princeton U,Princeton NJ. 19 May 2008 http://www.princeton.edu/~howarth/557/gathering3.htmlAubert, Alvin. "Gaines, Ernest J." Contemporary Southern Writers. Ed. Roger Matuz. Detroit: St. James Press, 1999. 147 - 178.