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A Gathering of Old Men

Ernest J. Gaines

Chapter 10 and 11

Chapter 9: Joseph Seabury, aka Rufe

Chapter 12: Sully

Summary

Chapter 10: Thomas Vincent Sullivan, aka Sully or T.V.

Sully is walking out of science class with Gil when Cal comes up to them and tells Gil that the coach wants to see him right away. Gil and Cal are star football players on the Louisiana State University team. Together they are known as Salt and Pepper as Gil is white, a Cajun, and Cal is black. As fullback and halfback, the success of the two depends upon their interaction. Gil dreams of becoming all-American this year, but much will depend on what happens in their important football game the following day against Ole Miss. Sully is a white freckled Irish third-string quarterback who is called T.V. because he is a self-described television nut.

Cal and Sully wait outside as Gil speaks to the coach. When Gil comes out, he looks very upset. Gil tells them that his brother, Beau, has been murdered. Gil treats Cal coldly when Cal tries to comfort him, which astonishes Cal and Sully because Gil and Cal generally are best friends. Sully offers to drive Gil home and the two leave Cal standing in the hall.

Sully learns in the car that the black people at the Marshall plantation may have killed Beau, which is why Gil treated Cal in such a cold manner. Sully knows about the reputation of Gil's father, Fix, and wonders if Gil will now act in a brutal racist way. Gil directs Sully down a road and Sully realizes that they have reached the Marshall Plantation. The deputy who is blocking the road recognizes Gil and lets him in, wishing him good luck in tomorrow's football game. Sully stops his car next to that of Lou Dimes's, whom Sully recognizes as a former LSU basketball star and current journalist in Baton Rouge.

Getting out of the car, Sully and Gil halt in surprise when they see the group of old men with shotguns in the yard. Sully thinks that the scene resembles something from "the Twilight Zone." Sheriff Mapes sees Gil and tells him that his brother has already been taken to Bayonne. Mapes is friendly to Gil, but tells him that his other deputy, Russell, is keeping Gil's father Fix back on the bayou. Gil questions Mapes as to why no justice has yet been served, but Mapes explains that he knows who did it and he will bring the person in before the day's end. Gil is upset. He sees Mathu and addresses him: Mathu confesses to the murder. Gil looks confused. Candy then tells Gil her story of how she shot Beau. Gil looks stunned and tells Candy that she is lying. He tells Candy that she never liked his family and always acted like she was made of better blood than them, but that she is not. Gil tells Candy that she is pathetic and sad. As he breaks down emotionally, Sully drives him away.

Chapter 11: Lou Dimes

Lou Dimes narrates this chapter. Everyone in the yard is still sitting around waiting for Fix to come, and it is now late afternoon. The crowd sees dust on the road indicating that a car is arriving and Lou suddenly feels nervous. The car, however, is Miss Merle's. She has brought sandwiches for everyone. The crowd is hungry and eats eagerly

Miss Merle starts criticizing Lou for his inability to control Candy. She asks him what type of husband he will be if he acts like he does. She next starts commenting to Candy about this charade that she has put on. Lou thinks about how Miss Merle and Mathu essentially raised Candy after her mother and father died. Although Miss Bea and Jack Marshall, the Major, were her aunt and uncle, Miss Merle and Mathu realized that those two were not up for the task. For this reason, Mathu took to educating her about the plantation and the people who lived on it. Miss Merle tried to teach her how to be a lady. Miss Merle essentially is Candy's surrogate mother that explains why she is acting so concerned. Miss Merle again expresses her fears about Fix coming to revenge Beau's death. Miss Merle leaves quickly. Mapes walks her to the car and talks with her. The sun is going down.

Analysis

The narrative shifts with this chapter from narrators who live on the plantation to one who does not. Sully, or Thomas Sullivan, is completely unconnected to the events at the Marshall plantation, but arrives to tell the story of Gil Bauton. Sully is a white man of Irish descent, an important distinction that places him outside of the local Cajun and landowner populations. Because he stands outside of these groups, Sully is able to achieve a somewhat objective narrative.

Gil Bauton's role as a star football player depends upon his work with a black player, Cal. Their nickname, Salt and Pepper, evokes their racial coloring. Gil is also Beau's brother and his brother's murder makes Gil initially treat Cal with coldness. His racist treatment of Cal, treating him poorly simply because he is black, surprises both Sully and Cal. Gil's initial anger at Cal demonstrates that even though Gil works closely with Cal everyday, his loyalties can still quickly be divided along racial lines as has often been the trend in the South. Still, the football duo of Salt and Pepper presents an important symbolic image of interracial harmony that will be further developed in the novel.

In this chapter, the identity of the legendary Fix is finally exposed as Beau and Gil's father. Sully knows that Gil's family has a racist past, and is not sure if Gil will go along with it. In this section, Gil gives no indications on how he will act. His visit to the Marshall plantation shows him as a sensitive young man mostly characterized by sadness and frustration. Gil seems shocked at finding old black men with shotguns there and grows even more confused when Candy confesses to the crime. Gil frustration arises from the dilemma which faces the entire new South: how to achieve racial harmony when violent racism dominants the past. Gil thought that he had been working in the right direction on the football team, but the death of his brother casts his efforts in doubt.

The reappearance of Miss Merle shows her as a kindly character who has brought sandwiches for everyone. At the same time, her behavior suggests that she is a matronly figure whose benevolence toward the blacks exists in a slightly condescending light that maintains her own social superiority. Miss Merle arrival, however, does allow for Lou Dimes to finally explain the nature of her exact relationship with Candy. After the death of Candy's parents, Miss Merle and Mathu essentially undertook Candy's education. Mathu's parenting of Candy, in particular, presents an ironic situation, but one that has often existed in the South. Candy belongs to the white master class, yet was raised by a member of the black underclass. Traditionally, this relationship has existed between white children and older black women, or "mammy" figures. William Faulkner himself had a mammy, Caroline Barr, to whom he was devoted; furthermore, he popularized the importance of the relationship by having a black mammy narrate the final chapter of The Sound and the Fury. The unique relationship between Mathu and Candy explains why she has long felt devoted to him, at the same time that it suggests the problems that might exist in their relationship. Candy's need to protect Mathu arises in part because of her affection, yet it can also stem for her desire, as a plantation owner, to protect her people in a somewhat condescending manner. In this way, Candy's behavior may be less unique and genuine than originally thought.

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