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A Gathering of Old Men

Ernest J. Gaines

Chapters 13 and 14

Chapter 12: Sully

Chapters 15 and 16

Summary of Chapter 13: Jacques Thibeaux, aka Tee Jack

Tee Jack, the owner of a local bar/general store on the bayou, narrates this chapter. Three customers are currently in the bar: a man from Mississippi come to see the football game; a quiet stranger; and Jack Marshall, owner of the Marshall Plantation. Jack Marshall comes to the bar each afternoon to drink, but speaks infrequently to any of the Cajun crowd. Tee Jack believes that Jack is trying to drink his family's history away. Tee Jack has heard about Beau's murder but says nothing until another local customer named Robert appears. Robert and Tee Jack start loudly discussing Beau's murder and speculating on the possibility of a lynching. Jack Marshall admits that Beau is dead, but acts uninterested. Suddenly the customer who is a quiet stranger speaks up and tells the other men that the days of lynching are over. Tee Jack is surprised at this stranger's reproof.

Suddenly Luke Wilson arrives with four other men, all of whom work at the local cement factory. Luke Wilson leads this small crew in regular actions against local blacks. Tee Jack knows that they put snakes in black churches, and turn over black school buses. Luke orders a bottle of whisky and some Cokes. He then approaches Jack Marshall and asks about the trouble on the plantation. Marshall looks severely displeased to be speaking to someone of Luke Wilson's quality. When Luke asks Marshall if Marshall is going to do something about one his "niggers" killing a white man, Marshall does not respond. Luke suggests that he will do it for Marshall. He also tells everyone that Fix is going to do nothing because of "his all-American son." Tee Jack tells Luke that he must be lying because Fix has always done something. When Luke grows angry at being called a liar, Tee Jack offers to buy their first bottle of whisky. As Luke and his crew start mixing their drinks together, Tee Jack notices that the ice is getting dirty since those men infrequently wash their hands despite the nature of their work.

The quiet stranger criticizes Luke Wilson's ideas and techniques, and Luke and his crew get very angry. This stranger turns out to be a professor at Southwestern Louisiana University who recently moved there from Texas, who, among other things, teaches black writing. As Jack Marshall gets up to leave, the professor begs him to stop what might happen on his land. Marshall looks annoyed. He tells the professor to go back to Texas if he cannot take it. Soon after, Luke and his crew physically force the professor to leave. They then order another bottle of whisky in order to get ready for that evening's lynching. As all the other customers have left the store, Tee Jack feels slightly scared left alone with the Luke's crew, since he knows that they would turn violent on him in a second.

Chapter 14: Albert Jackson, aka Rooster

Rooster, formally known as Albert Jackson, narrates this chapter. Back on the plantation, Sheriff Mapes suddenly calls everyone together and appears to be in a good mood. He tells them that Fix is not coming. No one believes him. Mapes laughs and explains that everyone there, including himself, was thinking of what Fix would have done thirty years ago, but times have changed. These days Fix's son helps racial relations by being part of a biracial football duo called Salt and Pepper. The blacks once wanted racial harmony and now that it exists, Fix is not coming and they will not have a chance for revenge.

Mapes then asks Mathu if he is ready and Mathu says yes. Everyone protests. Clatoo begs the Sheriff for a few minutes to speak with Mathu inside. The Sheriff agrees. When Candy tries to come inside, Clatoo tells her that she is not invited because it is just for the men. She grows furious and will not move no matter what Mathu says to her. In her anger, she threatens to evict everyone from the plantation. Mapes laughs and points out that Candy only acts like a savior when everyone obeys and pays attention to her. Eventually, Lou pulls Candy off the top of the stairs, physically carries her through the yard, and throws her in her car.

Once inside, Clatoo asks everyone what the men should do: fight, go downtown, or go home. The men argue about these options for a while. Mathu then quiets everyone and tells them that they have already done enough. At the beginning of the day, he thought that maybe they were not all strong men since they had spent their lives running, but already he sees that he was wrong. They already have proved themselves and should now just go home and let justice takes its course. Mathu explains that the day has changed him too. Before he was just a cold- hearted man who looked down on them, since he believed himself to be better, but now he has seen how he was wrong. The men have respected and known Mathu for many years, so his statement is powerful. Just as he is getting ready to leave the cabin, however, a voice calls from the kitchen telling him to stop. It is Charlie. He tells Mathu, his godfather or "Parrain," that Mathu should not have go. He tells everyone else to go get the Sheriff.

Analysis

Several complex issues relating to the local social classes become clear in this chapter. Tee Jack is a thoughtful narrator who tries to deeply understand his customers. Tee Jack knows that Jack Marshall looks down on the local Cajuns, but he sympathizes with Jack's desire to remain constantly drunk. Tee Jack believes that Marshall drinks to run away from the burden of his family's history. Unlike Gil Bauton, Jack refuses to embrace the changing world and chooses instead to blur it with drink. In this manner Jack will simply live a useless existence while continually sliding toward obsolescence. Jack's aloof unwillingness to confront change will eventually phase out his social class.

Candy Marshall's status in a superior class becomes increasingly obvious in this section as well. For most of the novel, Candy has acted like she is on a par with the local blacks. Yet in many ways she is blind to her own social situation. Candy may love Mathu, but as a white woman she has never believed himself a member of his social class. Her actions during the novel appear to present her concern for her people, but with her protectionism she is actually asserting a form of benevolent racism that allows her to remain in control. When Clatoo denies Candy's ability to control by telling her that she cannot come to their meeting, she goes crazy. All of her attempts to protect them disappear. Instead she starts hurling threats of eviction. Like a child, she throws an immense tantrum and refuses to walk away from Mathu's house. It is only after Lou physically forces Candy away from the door that the meeting can go on. Candy's overly protective attitude of the men, especially Mathu, testifies to her inability to believe that they can handle the crisis on their own shows that she too doubts their manhood. Candy Marshall may appear to have been a friend, but there is no denying with this chapter that she is also a member of the ruling white class.

The detailed discussion of Luke Will's character illustrates the opposite end of the local white culture. Luke Will is a clear ruffian. Even Tee Jack, who generally sides with his customers, frequently expresses his disdain and even fear of Luke. Luke and his crew are uneducated local laborers who often prey upon local blacks. The scene in the bar exposes Luke as little more than a childish brute. Luke's tendency to place snakes in black churches for example seems to be the act of a child rather than a man; a real man would fight his foes face to face. Likewise, Luke and his crew have come to the bar to get drunk before the lynching. Their need for drink suggests that they would lack the courage needed for the act if they were sober. Luke Will and his crew only can gather their courage by becoming a drunk mob. Overall they are local whites that try to subjugate blacks in order to make themselves feel superior when they are not superior. Tee Jack remarks many times upon the dirt that spreads from these men's hands to their ice, as often they do not wash for days. Luke Will is a frightening, unsavory character. His propensity for violence suggests his own lack of self-confidence and diminished manhood.

Finally, the character of Tee Jack is an important one in the local South as well. Tee Jack is a thoughtful narrator, but he is not a great person. His primary concern is to support what his customers want. When his customers discuss lynchings, Tee Jack happily joins in. When his customers discuss the coming football game, Tee Jack does the same. Tee Jack is not interested in rocking the boat. For this reason, Tee Jack is a man who will never be an instrument for social change, and he will bend whichever way the wind blows. The world is made up of forests of men like Tee Jack who are unwilling to question or act of their own accord. Unlike Gil Bauton, Tee Jack will not be helping to change the South into a more racially harmonious world. Tee Jack's attitude represents that of the masses and suggests the ensuing difficulty and slowness with which social change in the South will come about.

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