The setting for the novel "A Gathering of Old Men" by Ernest Gaines was a 1970's small Louisiana plantation were there is a lot of sugar cane all over the countryside. Many of the Blacks in this area are very old in their 70's and 80's and they had helped to cultivate the sugar as their parents and grandparents before them. Many of those who helped cultivate these lands were gone but they were still there. The sugar was their reminder of the harshness that they faced from childhood to adulthood. The sugar also represented the social abuse that they faced day in and day out.
During the time of the sugarcane cultivation by their people, no black person would ever stand up to a white man for putting him down. The sugar cane was also used at time to beat them for example, when Charlie was being attacked by Beau, Beau picked up a stalk of sugar cane to hit Charlie.
When Charlie picked it up a stalk to protect him, Beau unleashed an attacked on him that caused Charlie to retaliate and Charlie was a gentle soul who would never hurt anyone. The stalk of sugar cane was a grime reminder of how in the olden days when white Cajuns felt that they were being disrespected; they beat up on the blacks.
The sugar cane suggests the old ways before the Cajuns changed the local agricultural labor. 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...