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A Gathering of Old Men

Ernest J. Gaines

Chapter 17–20

Chapters 15 and 16

Important Quotations Explained

Summary

Chapter 17: Snookum

Snookum narrates this chapter. When the shooting starts, he dashes down the stairs, and under the house. People are yelling everywhere as the shots ring out. Snookum sees Lou crawling around the house. Lou tells Snookum to move toward the back of the house and stay down. Lou approaches Sheriff Mapes who is still sitting where he fell. Lou tells Mapes that the deputy, Griffin, has resigned. Mapes asks Lou if he wants the job. Mapes places Lou in charge of the situation and tells Lou not to bother him anymore that night.

Chapter 18: Horace Thompson, aka Sharp

Sharp, who is a member of Luke Wilson's crew, narrates this chapter. He is hiding with the other white Cajuns behind the tractor. They are all amazed that the black men on the property have guns and are shooting at them. They cannot figure out how the blacks became so brave. One of them, a young boy named Leroy, has been winged with a bullet and is crying continually. Luke slaps Leroy in order to get him to shut up. Leroy yells for Mapes to help him because he is white and he has been shot. Mapes gives Leroy no sympathy. Luke then asks Mapes to help them get Leroy out of there. Mapes tells Luke that since Luke shot him, Luke can figure out how to evade the bullets on his own.

Luke tells Sharp that they are almost out of bullets, but that he is going to fight back. Sharp does not feel like getting himself killed over this situation and he knows that his attitude angers Luke. Luke tells Sharp to take care of his wife and kids if something happens to him. Luke cries out again to Mapes who refers Luke to Lou Dimes, who then refers Luke to Charlie. Charlie tells Luke to watch out because Charlie is prepared to kill him like he did Beau. Faced with this taunt, Luke decides that he will definitely try to kill Charlie no matter what. Luke leaves the hiding place to search for him.

Chapter 19: Antoine Christopher, aka Dirty Red

Dirty Red narrates this chapter. He is lying in a ditch with Yank, Tucker, Chimley, and Charlie. Dirty Red passes Charlie a cigarette. Charlie tells them that he is going to get Luke Will. The other men tell Charlie that he could possibly get off for Beau's murder because it was self-defense and that Mathu wants Charlie to stop. Charlie does not care. Charlie tells them that life is great when one is no longer a coward. The other men start asking Charlie what he saw back there in the swamps that made him so brave.

The fight has become a stand off between Charlie and Luke Will, both of who are out for one another. Charlie eventually gets up and approaches Luke. Dirty Red hears a shot and sees Charlie's body bend. Charlie keeps walking and shooting though. Soon after there are more shots and Charlie falls to the ground. All is quiet. Lou Dimes runs over to the tractor and yells that Luke has been killed. The black people all have gathered around Charlie. He is dead, having been shot through the stomach. Everyone in the community touches his body and Glo even makes her grandchildren touch him too.

Chapter 20: Lou Dimes

Lou narrates this chapter. Funerals for Beau Bauton, Charlie, and Luke Will all take place three days later. Everyone involved in the shooting is put on trial, although the main culprits Charlie and Luke Will are already dead. Candy hires a lawyer to defend the blacks. The Klan defends Luke Will. All of the defendants look ridiculous having been scratched, sprained, or injured during the melee, although only Leroy had been shot. Everyone scrubs himself or herself and puts on their best clothes for the court.

When the trial began, blacks, whites, and media from around the nation packed the courtroom. The Bauton family comes to watch (Gil had helped LSU win the game against Ole Miss, by the way). The trial takes three days and often resembles a comic skit. All the blacks refer to each other by their nicknames- Coot, Chimley, Rooster—which makes the press laugh. Sheriff Mapes also adds comic effect when he says that he could not control the scene because he fallen on his butt in the yard and could not get up. Eventually, the jury comes to a verdict. The judge places all the defendants, both black and white, on probation for five years.

When the trial ends, Candy asks Mathu if he wants a ride home but he declines. Mathu piles into a truck with Clatoo and the others old men. Candy waves goodbye to them. As they leave, Lou feels Candy squeezing her hand tightly against his in a reaffirmation of their relationship.

Analysis

The final chapters of the novel unfold quickly and grow increasingly with comic effect. Gaines uses Snookum again as the narrator to describe the first sequence of the shooting. With Snookum's childish tone, the seriousness of the shooting is diminished. From his vantage point under the house, Snookum also is able to see the comic events that ensue. The deputy, Griffin, resigns on the spot. Sheriff Mapes is only lightly injured but refuses to get up and calm the situation. The Sheriff places Lou Dimes in charge of the crisis and asks to be bothered no more. The Sheriff's unwillingness to get personally involved in the shootout shows that he wants the two crews to work it out without his help. The old black men have a burning desire for revenge due to their histories and the young Cajuns want the same thing. Sheriff Mapes views the entire situation as ridiculous and therefore resolves to just stay seated on the lawn. His injury is not so serious that he could not get up if he wanted to.

The shift of the narration to Sharp, one of the Cajuns, provides a unique perspective into the lynch mob's mind. All of them are astonished that the blacks are shooting. Sharp expresses his unwillingness to be killed while avenging Beau. Leroy, the youth, moans uncontrollably after being lightly wounded. Only Luke Will maintains a fierce desire for vengeance. Luke cannot just let Charlie walk away. The other Cajuns basically show themselves to be cowards who are only interested in the lynching when the blacks come peacefully and the whites have the upper hand. Luke Will is a ruffian, but his pride and unwillingness to back down from Charlie's challenge will finally lead to his death. During the battle, the Cajuns hide behind Beau Bauton's tractor, an appropriate symbolic location. This tractor, as we have seen earlier in the novel, represents the mechanized change that the Cajun farmers brought to the area and the detrimental effect that it had on the blacks. The blacks end up shooting at the tractor their symbolic enemy as they are attempting to hit the whites.

Both Luke Will and Charlie are killed during the shooting, but their deaths are not sad events. Luke Will always has appeared a nasty character and little sadness can be felt at his death. Charlie has not been present for most of the novel and furthermore becomes martyred with his death. Charlie died while pursuing courage and black masculinity. His courage so impressed everyone that they lay their hands upon his dead body after he dies. The entire book discusses the issue of black masculinity, but Charlie represents the ultimate black male transformed. In just one day, he transformed himself from a sniveling coward to a man willing to stand up and fight for his self.

Lou Dimes narrates the final chapter with a light comic tone. The trial sets the town laughing with stories of the Sheriff's injury and the blacks' names. The tone is comic, but the verdict signifies a marked change in the way justice is processed in the South. All of the men involved in the shooting, both white and black, received the same punishment for the same crime. This equal distribution of justice is inconsistent with the traditionally racist justice system of the era. With this final comic trial, Gaines highlights the way that the South truly has changed. Throughout the novel the old men, both white and black, have expected Beau's death to be dealt with the way that it would have been dealt with in the past. But they had not adjusted to the changing social times. This trial confirms that the change is real. Gil Bauton plays football with a black partner, and justice is equally served, suggesting that the ways of the old South are on their way out.

The chapter's final mention of Candy and Mathu demonstrates also the way that they have changed through the novel. Candy longed to protect Mathu throughout the book, but actually reinforced her position as a socially superior white by doing so. Candy's willingness to let Mathu drive home with the other blacks differs from her cloying protection of him throughout the rest of the novel. At the same time, Mathu too has changed. Previously he shunned the skin color of the other blacks and closely aligned himself with the Marshalls in a superior way. Now he believes himself the equal of the other black men and goes with them. In the final action of the novel, Candy grasps Lou's hand affectionately. With this grasp, it seems that Candy will consent to become his wife, as he desires. She has been ornery and feisty throughout the book, but she too has changed and is finally able to release herself from her own outdated notions of how the blacks on her plantation can only survive underneath her protection. As she releases her stubborn independence, she will likely be better suited to join with another in marriage.

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