Study Guide

Clatoo in A Gathering of Old Men

By Ernest J. Gaines

Clatoo

Pretty much all of the men who show up at Mathu's place have known each other for their entire lives, so it makes sense that they're comfortable enough with each other to carry on a pretty involved conversation or crack the occasional joke. With Cyril Robillard, who most of the folks at Marshall call Clatoo, the jokes are more than occasional. He even seems to particularly enjoy smarting off to Mapes as soon as he gets the chance. Just take a look at this little gem of dialogue from around the time Mapes is still trying to get to the bottom of things. Mapes kicks it off: 

"What's the matter with you, Clatoo?" Mapes said. You're the last person I thought would be looking for trouble."

"That's been my trouble," Clatoo said.

"What?" Mapes said. Mapes was looking at him the way white folks do around here, looking at him hard.

"I ain't had no trouble with the law," Clatoo said.

"Meaning?" Mapes said.

"I'm old," Clatoo said.

"Meaning?" Mapes said.

"About time I had a li'l trouble with the law before I died," Clatoo said.

"You really want to go to jail, don't you?" Mapes said.

"I figured I was on my way there when I shot him," Clatoo said. (9.39-49) 

Sure, Clatoo is smart-mouthing here, but his message is pretty obvious. He's telling Mapes that he isn't afraid of him, and that he's not backing down from anybody this time. Unlike most of the men we meet, with the exception of Gable Rauand, Clatoo is the only one who owns his own property, and he's made a decent living selling the produce he grows there. All of this gives Clatoo a higher level of status among the men, which is why he's the one who helps Candy organize and transport them. He's the one who provides them with live ammo. He's not exactly a ring-leader, but he's pretty close. 

The reason is pretty simple. Thanks to his economic independence, Clatoo enjoys a kind of independence similar to Mathu's. This is Gaines's way of showing us the way that social class can affect how other people see and respect others, regardless of the color of their skin. It's important to remember, though, that another thing Gaines is showing us is that Clatoo's success doesn't make him more of a person in the eyes of the white characters.