Study Guide

Beulah Jackson in A Gathering of Old Men

By Ernest J. Gaines

Beulah Jackson

In a novel called A Gathering of Old Men, it shouldn't come as a surprise that there aren't that many women at all, at least not among the members of the Black community around Marshall Plantation. Along with Beulah—Rooster's wife—we've got Aunt Glo, Janey (who isn't actually there at Mathu's place), Corrine, and Ella (Mat's wife) who get mentioned by name. Gaines doesn't let the women in his novel say much, which we don't think is really fair. But Beulah is one of only a couple who gets her say, and she lets Mapes have an earful. "I can tell you things done happened to women round here make the hair stand on your head," she promises (9.220). All Mapes tells her is that he's had enough of the "tall tales." 

Whoa. Can you honestly believe that? Here people have been talking about their life experiences, and all Mapes does is call them "tall tales"— stories that aren't really true. He's just called them a pack of liars. And sure, everybody there who cops to killing Beau is lying about that, but for Mapes to say that their experiences are tall tales is just disgusting. 

Beulah isn't thrown, though. Once Mapes refuses to hear her out about how Fix was involved in drowning two innocent little girls, she's had it. She's not afraid of anything anymore, if she ever was (seriously—this woman is super tough). She goes on to say that she's not afraid to go down for killing Beau, and that if Mathu gets sent up for it, she's going to be right there next to the guy. Beulah's nothing if she isn't tough. And the way she calls out Mapes for all of his excuse-making is a super-important part of the novel. Beulah says what she says because Gaines wants to make it crystal clear that the kind of evil Fix represents is (unfortunately) alive and well, and Beulah says as much without a stutter or a stumble.