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:
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