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A Gathering of Old Men

Ernest J. Gaines

Chapter 12: Sully

Chapter 10 and 11

Chapters 13 and 14

Summary

Sully narrates this chapter. He drives Gil out to Boutan house on the bayou, an area that is filled with Cajun families. Sully has gone there with Gil before and knows that Gil is very friendly will all the people in the area both white and black. At the Boutan house, Russell, the Sheriff's deputy, meets Sully and Gil in the yard. Russell tells Gil that he is keeping Gil's father, Fix, at the house. Gil invites Russell inside.

The house is full of people. Gil greets his father and some other family members and introduces Sully. Gil tells his father that he drove by the Marshall Plantation. He describes the old black men with guns who appear to be waiting there for Fix. He tells everyone that Mathu may have shot Beau. Some men in the room ask Fix why they have not left already to mete out justice. One man is particularly vociferous, a man named Luke Will.

Gil goes on to tell his father that he does not think that they should handle the matter with their own hands. Gil complains that he often has been associated with his family's violent past, which he does not like. Gil also explains that his football playing depends upon his interaction with a black player, Cal. He will not be All-American and win the game tomorrow if he gets involved in illegal activities tonight. Gil tries to persuade his father that the days of lynchings are over and that times have changed in the South.

Fix takes this news quietly and asks everyone in the room what they think of it. One of Gil's brother's, Jean, also does not want violence because he owns a butcher store in Bayonne and thinks it will hurt his business. Luke Will angrily labels Gil and Jean as cowards and demands justice for Beau's death. Several other men in the room also grow angry at Gil's opinions. Fix insists that as the head of the household he will decide what will happen, but he will not act unless all his sons are behind him. Fix questions one of his old friends, Auguste. Auguste concludes that they are old men now, but that they could still do something if they want. Fix argues with Gil's loyalties to his family. He points to a grieving woman and child, Beau's widow and son, near him. Gil insists that the law should handle it. Jean remains on Gil's side, even though Luke Will and some other men in the room keep labeling them cowards.

Soon after, Fix grows angry that Gil and orders Gil to leave the house. Gil is deeply distressed and insists that his ideas are not wrong. When he gets near the door, Russell, the deputy, tells Gil that Gil is doing the right thing and justice will be better served for Beau's son if Gil plays football the next day with Cal and shows the world that white and black people can work together. Gil feels despondent and cannot decide what to do. He turns away Sully's request to drive him somewhere.

Analysis

This chapter cuts to the core of issues behind racial violence within the South. The narrative shifts to the heart of Cajun country, the Boutan's house. Sully emerges as a quasi-objective narrator who will be able to record the people and dialogue without bias.

Boutan family reveals itself to be a strict patriarchy governed by Fix. When Gil arrives, the gathered mourners direct him to where his father sits. Gil greets his father with a kiss on the cheek. The family and the father have been waiting for Gil, their educated celebrated son who lives in the city. While the family clearly dotes on Gil, with everyone, including Fix, still calling him by a childish nickname "Gi-bear," Fix definitely controls this conference. Fix insists that only the members of the family will speak and will make the decisions. Gil even apologizes for bringing an outsider, Sully, to the home. The focus on family and Fix's presence as a patriarch could be compared to scenes from the Godfather. Fix is entirely in control, but he maintains that he will not act without the consent of his sons.

Fix and Gil Boutan are very different men who represent very different historical generations of the American South. Fix represents that ways of the older South. He still is prepared to maintain the subjugation of blacks with violence. He still longs for some type of revenge. Gil, on the other hand, represents the new South. Gil's formidable years have arrived after the main events in the Civil Rights movement. Gil understands the need for racial interdependence due to his position on the football team. Gil urges his father and his family not to fight back with violence, but to let the law have its way. Gil and Fix each have differing ideologies that cannot co-exist. Fix does not like what Gil has to say, but ultimately Gil's ideas win. Fix is an old man now and Gil represents the future. Gil's willingness to stand up and articulate his beliefs has changed the course of action. Gil's success in this small matter is just a representation of the way that similarly forward young Southern males could alter the historical systems of racism if only they are brave enough to stand up and try.

Gil's successes do not arrive without pain, however. His father accuses him of being unfaithful to the family and eventually orders him out of the house. Gil almost breaks down in tears because he feels so torn by his diverging allegiances to family and conscience. The ties that bind Gil to the violent history of the South are strong. But he is not alone. All Southerners and in fact all Americans are equally tied to this country's racist past. As Gil does, Americans need to try and liberate themselves from its confining bonds. Gaines's depiction of Gil's struggle invokes James Joyce comment that "history is a nightmare from which I am trying to wake up." Other African-American writers, such as Ralph Ellison, Ishmael Reed, and John Edgar Wideman, have offered similar analyses. The struggle may be hard, but as Gil suggests it is necessary for a more harmonious future. Gil's efforts will allow him to become an "All- American" football player. Similar efforts by the country as a whole would allow for the true possibility of becoming an all-American country—a country where races are measured equally and can live with some type of harmony. But first, Americans must escape the confining burden of their past.

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