A Gathering of Old Men

Ernest J. Gaines
Characters

Sheriff Mapes

Characters Sheriff Mapes

Sheriff Mapes is a sixty-year-old white man who initially seems to be a classic racist, but actually is more complex. When he first arrives at the plantation, he uses violence to question the old men. The use of violence to frighten blacks is a typical tool of Southern law enforcement. On this day however, these blows no longer work. The old men have actually changed. Sheriff Mapes's blows do not inspire fear in them. The old men remain indifferent and uncaring. They refuse to say more and sarcastically comment about the Sheriff's efforts. The Sheriff's initial violent techniques show that in many ways he is still a man of the old Southern order.

As the novel continues, Sheriff Mapes appears as a deeper character, who is more capable of being understanding. He long has deeply respected Mathu for his manhood. The Sheriff and Mathu even have gone fishing together, which suggests that the Sheriff is willing to maintain acquaintances outside of the boundary of race. Furthermore, the Sheriff never indicates any interest in persecuting the blacks simply because of their race. When Luke Will and his crew arrive, Sheriff Mapes tries to fight them. The Sheriff is shot in his efforts. After he falls to the ground, he decides just to sit there and ride the situation out. Sheriff Mapes could get up if he truly wanted, but he has no incentive. He knows that Luke Will is a local ruffian not worth protecting. Furthermore, he does not have a problem with letting the old black men take the situation into their own hands and fight it out. The Sheriff's later leniency towards the blacks demonstrates that he is a far more complex character than originally thought. By the end of the novel, he seems to have changed and accepted them all as men. It seems unlikely that he will use violent interrogation techniques against them again.