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A Gathering of Old Men

Ernest J. Gaines

Character List

Plot Overview

Analysis of Major Characters

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 self-realized 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 Mapes is a complex character who is likeable in some ways, but whose techniques are outdated.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.
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