Study Guide

Johnny Paul in A Gathering of Old Men

By Ernest J. Gaines

Johnny Paul

Like a lot of the other characters in Gaines's novel, we don't know a whole lot about Johnny Paul. We mean, he doesn't even have a cool nickname. But in what is probably the single most powerful and important chapter in A Gathering of Old Men, Johnny Paul is responsible for giving us some incredibly powerful stuff. After letting Mapes know that he's not going to take any more of his garbage, Johnny Paul presents us with the longest glimpse of the book into the rich history of the Black community at Marshall. 

He talks about cool summer evenings when the elderly folks would sit on their porches ("garries") and talk. Johnny Paul describes, with the simple beauty of the best of poets, beautiful flowers in the yard of a resident of the quarters long since gone, the sight of strong men working the fields with their horses and mules, people singing in church together, and a stirring image of a community that stuck together no matter how hard things got (9.87-101). 

He may not be Reverend Jameson, but Johnny Paul preaches some amazing stuff to us when he finally gets going. His long speech does two things. Firstly, it's supposed to show us how strong and vibrant the community was in spite of all of the racist nonsense everybody had to deal with, making us admire that community all the more. Secondly, Johnny Paul's words give us a picture of what he and his pals are standing tall to protect and defend: the memory of all of that.