Mat narrates Chapter 5. Upon getting home, he telephones Clatoo to see if he can catch a ride. Using the phone, Clatoo also manages to borrow a shotgun from a local woman. After Mat arranges everything, his wife, Ella, eyes him suspiciously and demands to know what is happening. Mat refuses to tell her and insists that it is men's business. Ella looks outside and sees a neighbor, Billy Washington, with a shotgun. Because Billy is so old and never goes hunting, she knows something is happening. She hounds her husband. Finally Mat tells her that a Cajun has been killed and that they are all going to the Marshall Plantation to help out. Ella explodes. She tells Mat that he is crazy and that he is not going. Mat responds with anger and tells his wife that he is finally standing up for something like a man after the years of abuse, toiling in the fields. Mat evokes the memory of their son who died because the local hospital refused to treat a black man, and he starts weeping as he fights. Upon hearing the car horn outside, he abruptly leaves. Clatoo is driving and Mat climbs in the back with Billy Washington, Chimley, Cherry Bello, and Jacob Aguillard. The men remark on the fight Mat must have just had with his wife. They each comment on how they managed to slip away from their own women. Mat talks to Chimley who acknowledges that he is scared. Mat feels scared too, but proud also in a different way.
These two chapters set Candy's plan into motion and give us the first glance into the old men who will gather at the plantation. A major theme in these two chapters is the issue of manhood. The opening of the section shows Chimley and Mat as they are before the day's events. They are old, in their early seventies, and they are fishing, a traditional masculine activity. When they learn of Beau's death and Candy's call for help, they both grow quiet with thought. After thinking about the matter for a few minutes, Mat remarks to Chimley that God works in mysterious ways. His comment suggests that this opportunity to help Mathu will give Chimley and Mat a way to redeem themselves before they die. The act of redemption will come from them bravely standing up like men instead of hiding under beds like cowards. For most of their lives, they, like most black men, have chosen the latter route since standing up to local whites often meant physical torture and death. Now in their twilight years, they suddenly feel empowered to stand up as they never have before.
The argument between Mat and his wife further demonstrates Mat's need to redefine his masculinity. His wife wants him to stay home like a beaten down old man, but he refuses to do so. Mat invokes the memories of their son's painful death, their years of suffering in the fields, and the legacy of discrimination. Their argument is deeply touching since Mat starts to weep as he defends his desire to finally do something brave. The other men that Mat soon after meets in the truck also have slipped away from their women. These old men all have a fierce determination now to demonstrate themselves. They have long looked up to Mathu because Mathu has been the one man who stood up against whites in the community. Through the old men's willingness to take action, they will be able to assert their masculinity.
Chimley and Mat narrate these two chapters. They both are uneducated older black men who have spent their days toiling on the Marshall Plantation. Their style reflects the local black idiom. Chimley and Mat are not major characters in the novel. Along with some of the other men met in this chapter, Billy Washington, Joseph Aguillard, and Clatoo, they just become some of the many men who respond to Mathu's house. In fact, these two chapters represent their most visible moments in the novel. Still while their individual characters are not crucial, their narrations initiate the series of narratives by the old men who will gather at the plantation. Their memories and points of view will be woven with those from the other old black men. United, their tales present a rich textile of their lives with their pains and their pleasures. By granting Mat and Chimley narrative voices, Gaines's grants them the further power of self-definition. These two men will likely never tell their own stories in writing, but they are able to do so orally in this novel. The struggle for self-definition through the control of language is an important theme in the African-American tradition from the efforts of Frederick Douglass to that of Ralph Ellison. With their physical actions during this day, the old men will be demonstrating to themselves and the communities that they are no longer cowards. With their ability to describe themselves with their own words, the old men will be demonstrating that although illiterate, they are still masters of language and self. In addition to creating narrative texture, Gaines's unique narrative structure grants his characters the further possibility of self-definition.
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