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A Gathering of Old Men

Ernest J. Gaines

Chapter 8: Louis Alfred Dimoulin, aka Lou Dimes

Chapters 6 and 7

Chapter 9: Joseph Seabury, aka Rufe

Summary

Lou Dimes narrates this chapter. He has sped crazily to the plantation after he got Candy's message. Upon reaching Mathu's house, he sees approximately eighteen old black men with shotguns. He immediately speaks to Candy, who tells him that she murdered Beau. The presence of the armed black men and Candy's confession send a shiver of panic down his spine. Lou walks around the house and starts speaking to the men. The first one he addresses immediately confesses to the crime. The second one does the same. Finally, Lou sees the Reverend Jameson and asks him what is going on. The Reverend refers Lou back to Candy.

Lou tells Candy that she is lying about shooting Beau. Candy becomes furious. She explains that she shot Beau after Beau beat Charlie, threatened Mathu, and insisted on walking on Mathu's property. Candy had warned Beau not to approach Mathu but when he did anyway, she shot him. Lou tells Candy that Fix is going to demand the blood of a black person for this crime no matter what she says. She grows increasingly angry and tells him to go back to Baton Rouge if he cannot deal with it. Suddenly the road fills with dust as Sheriff Mapes arrives.

Sheriff Mapes is a physically large man in his late sixties. He does not speak as he gets out of the car, but takes in the situation. He then instructs his deputy Griffin to turn off the tractor that is still running, to call and have Fix kept away from the plantation, and to finally arrange for the removal of the body. Mapes remarks to Lou about the number of armed men. When Mapes looks at Candy, she immediately confesses to killing Beau. Mapes does not respond. He orders his deputy, Griffin, to bring one of the men over to him for questioning.

The deputy brings Billy Washington over, one of the oldest men there. Mapes refers to him as Uncle Billy. When Billy confesses to shooting Beau, Mapes slaps him in the face. After Mapes asks more questions and Billy confesses again, Mapes slaps him once more. Since he is getting nowhere with Billy, Mapes tells Griffin to bring up another man. The deputy brings up Gable. As did Billy, Gable also immediately claims to be the murderer. When Gable persists in his confession, Mapes slaps him also. Gable responds sarcastically to being hit, which prompts another blow. All the surrounding black men grin with Gable's attitude and Lou reflects that the Sheriff will get nowhere by hitting people.

Next Griffin brings up Reverend Jameson. Reverend Jameson looks scared and nervously tells the Sheriff that he has nothing to say. When the Reverend fails to say more, Mapes hits him as well. In response to the blow, the Reverend falls to the ground. As he gets up slowly, the other men form a line in front of Mapes so that he can question and hit them all. Candy stands at the front of the line. Mapes moves away and talks to Lou. Mapes tells Lou that he believes that Mathu killed Beau, as the only other possible suspect is Charlie, but Charlie is too cowardly. With so many confessions, however, Mapes can arrest no one. Furthermore, Mapes knows that Candy arranged for charade. Mapes asks Lou why Lou does not better control his girlfriend. Lou reflects and realizes that Mapes does not think that he is much of a man.

The coroner arrives. The sight of the armed black men surprises him and his assistant, but Mapes instructs them to just move the body and not to ask questions. The coroner places the time of death as around noon. Mapes tells the coroner not to tell anyone in town that Beau is dead. After the hearse leaves, Mapes orders everyone to move but no one complies. Billy Washington then grows excited and yells to the Sheriff that he killed Beau. The Sheriff follows up to Billy's assertion by questioning him deeply. Mapes points out that Billy could not have killed Beau because Billy does not even live at Marshall and he is too old to shoot straight. Billy tells Sheriff Mapes that he killed Beau because Beau crippled Billy's son in a beating many years before, so that Billy's son now lives in a mental hospital. Mapes listens but dismisses Billy's confession, before summoning Mathu over to him.

Analysis

This chapter is the first of three that Lou Dimes will narrate. Lou is Candy's boyfriend, a white man who lives in Baton Rouge. Lou's voice is objective and journalistic. He provides a clear understanding of what is happening at the scene. At the same time, he is still a white Southerner who feels alarmed at the sight of many armed black men. Lou Dimes differs from other Southern men however as we begin to see in this chapter. Although he has a relationship with Candy, he does not appear to be the dominant member within it. Sheriff Mapes, in fact, criticizes Lou's failure to control his woman. Lou is not interested in controlling Candy, however. He is a Southern man, but unlike Sheriff Mapes, he is not interested in establishing his manhood by subjugating others.

Sheriff Mapes is not an entirely bad man, but his need to establish himself by using violence places him in the older Southern social order. Sheriff Mapes establishes his manhood by exercising force against others. Ironically his violence appears to be more cowardly than it is brave. The Sheriff fights these men, but not on equal grounds. His status as the enforcer of the law protects him against any retaliation by the blacks. Sheriff Mapes takes advantage of his position to persecute those lower than him, but only does so knowing that he is safe within his position. His forcible blows against such old black men appear to be particularly harsh and unnecessary, as these men are elderly and nonviolent. The image of the Reverend Jameson falling in reaction to being struck seems particularly cruel. As these black men pose no threat, the Sheriff's force is excessive and actually ridiculous. There is no doubt that his questioning techniques are an outdated hangover from the days of the earlier South.

The ridiculous nature of the Sheriff's violence almost seems to be understood by the black men themselves. Traditionally, the techniques used by the Sheriff would bring out truthful confessions and frightened reactions, but not on this day. The fear upon which the Sheriff's techniques once relied no longer seems to exist. Instead of groveling in response to the blows, the old men laugh sarcastically. Instead of fleeing when Reverend Jameson falls to the ground, the old men line up so that the Sheriff can more easily hit them. The Sheriff has no idea what to do when his interrogating methods fail. His perplexity at not being obeyed as in the days of old allow the old men around him to gain the upper hand.

Toward the end of the chapter, Billy Washington starts confessing and offering explanations even without the Sheriff asking. In fact, the Sheriff is still flummoxed by the failure of the men to heed his ways. Billy boldly screams out that he is Beau's murder and even explains why—Beau beat his son so badly years ago that Bill's son can no longer recognize his parents. Billy's willingness to tell his story to the white Sheriff when not asked is an act of significant courage. Traditionally, there was a racist social order that prevented blacks from speaking out of turn to whites. Here, Billy not only speaks out of turn, but he also dredges up accusations of brutality against a local white man. Billy's bold testimony is the first of many to come. His willingness to speak inverts the common dynamics of dialogue between whites and blacks in the South. While whites once stood as the master of language and speech, now Billy Washington does. Billy Washington bravely rises and talks and Sheriff Mapes can do nothing but listen. This act of articulation and storytelling is another way in which Billy has reasserted his manhood on this day.

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