A main 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. The guns that they had throughout the novel were a symbol of heir masculinity and of the independence.
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...