Study Guide

A Gathering of Old Men Beau Boutan's Murder

By Ernest J. Gaines

Beau Boutan's Murder

When Beau Says "Bye-Bye"

We really can't stress enough how important Beau's murder is to Gaines's novel. It's the one event that literally sets everything in motion and turns the small part of Louisiana that Gaines shows us on its head. 

Beau's murder isn't just important to the plot of the novel, though. It's also got a pretty important symbolic significance as well. And, given that we've got around fifty of them in this novel, this significance is going to vary ever so slightly, depending on which of these characters you're looking at.

For folks like Fix, Tee Jack, and Luke Will, for example, Beau's murder is taken as both a challenge to the racist order they represent and a signal that things are in danger of changing around those parts, which means they're not going to be a part of the group that gets to call the shots anymore. And for the Black community that Gaines introduces to us in the novel, Beau's murder means more than just one less redneck jerk they need to worry about. For them, Beau's death—and taking turns trying to take responsibility for it—represents a kind of justice. It's not quite the vigilante justice that Fix and Luke Will are after, but a kind of punishment that Beau is forced to suffer for his crimes—as well as the crimes of his father and the crimes of racist lunatics like Luke Will and his buddies. 

And then, of course, there's Charlie Biggs, the guy who actually pulled the trigger and laid Beau out. When Charlie starts explaining that just why it was he put a cap in Beau Boutan, he lets loose with some pretty eye-brow raising stuff. "He used to 'buse me," Charlie says (and he's talking about Beau), and he just goes on from there: 

No matter if I did twice the work any other man could do, he 'bused me anyhow. I can pick up more than any man I ever met. Give me a good plate of food, and I can work longer than any man I ever met. Pull a saw, swing an axe, stretch a wire, cut ditch bank, dig postholes better than any man I ever met. Still he 'bused me. Cussed me for no cause at all. N***** this, n***** than, for no cause at all. Just to 'buse me. (15.52). 

Charlie makes it pretty clear that he was sick of not being treated like a human being. For Charlie, murdering Beau (who had plans to kill him, by the way) represents proof that he's entitled to the same amount of respect as anybody, regardless of what color their skin happens to be. For Charlie, Beau Boutan equals abuse. Beau's death means breaking a long cycle of abuse. Whether or not violence justifies violence—well, that's another question. All the same, it's a really key question that we don't think Gaines is trying to avoid.

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