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A Gathering of Old Men

Ernest J. Gaines

Chapters 15 and 16

Chapters 13 and 14

Chapter 17–20

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.

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