Study Guide

Lou Dimes in A Gathering of Old Men

By Ernest J. Gaines

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Lou Dimes

With a name that sounds like a character on The Sopranos or Boardwalk Empire, what's not to love about Lou Dimes? If you can't really think of anything to hate about the guy, you had better believe that there's good reason for that. Gaines wanted to create a character—and, specifically, a white Cajun character—who was likeable and awesome. Next to scumbags like old Fix Boutan or Luke Will, Lou Dimes is like Mother Theresa in slacks and a button-down shirt. 

When you think about it, the fact that Lou seems so likeable makes a lot of sense. Since we hear from him the most, we spend the most time with him as readers. Now we don't know about you, but if we had to spend as much time with a character like Tee Jack or Luke Will's buddy Sharp, we'd probably be tossing our cookies every few minutes because of how disgustingly ignorant and racist they are. You can bet your last dollar that there's just a little bit (like a lot) more going on with Lou Dimes than that. 

Born on the Bayou? 

If we want to understand Lou Dimes, we've got to start by comparing him to other characters and their experiences. Like Mathu and Fix Boutan, we hear about Lou way before we see him. He may not have the reputations that either of those guys have, but that isn't the only difference between Lou and these characters in this book—or pretty much all of the other characters for that matter. 

It's a pretty safe bet that, unless their work required that they leave for a day or two, most of the African American characters in this novel have pretty much stayed put their entire lives. As in: not only were they all born on or around Marshall, but they'll probably be buried there, too. (That's one of the things that the moments that Dirty Red, Cherry, and other characters spend, tending their loved ones' graves in the small cemetery, is meant to tell us.) 

In a similar way, Gaines wants us to see that Fix and his clan—even if they moved to their not-so little spot on the St. Charles River however many decades ago—haven't really moved around much, either. That's one of the reasons why Gil's going to LSU makes him such a huge deal. He's the first to ever really get away and make it to a fancy college in a big city. At least, that's what part of Gil's conversation with his dastardly daddy tells us (12.19). 

And, while we're on the subject of who's where and for just how long they might be there, Candy's family may have some moolah, but they've been in those parts at least since before the Civil War. It doesn't look like any of them plan on leaving—at least not at first. 

Enter Lou Dimes, who can just as easily exit whenever he wants to. He's a big shot reporter in Baton Rouge (2.3), a big city with a big name that you can believe is a whole lot larger than Marshall Plantation or the patch of land that the Boutans call their own. 

Lou's travels—between the big city of Baton Rouge and the not-so big patch of land that is Marshall to meet up with his gal pal Candy—show us that he seems to have a lot more freedom than the other characters in the novel, at least in terms of his ability to move around and see the sights. 

We might be tempted to think that all of this freedom is a good thing—after all, who would want to be stuck in one place forever—but it also happens to make Lou an outsider. He doesn't even know the names of at least 3 or 4 of the men who've gathered at Mathu's following Beau's murder. Lou's limited ability to get what's going on down at Marshall is Gaines's way of hitting us once again with the fact that a person who hasn't grown up living and breathing the same kind of history that others have—even if they are as down-to-earth and awesome as Lou—just isn't going to be able to help us understand its effects the way a person who has actually had those experiences can. 

Not only that, but if we think of a character like Candy as being connected to the Old School way of the South—with plantations in the country—and think of Lou as being to the more modern hustle and bustle of the big city, Candy and Lou's relationship is meant to show us how the past and present all blend together in the South, making it even more impossible to forget history and the lessons it teaches us. 

Clark Kent Minus the Red Undies 

This isn't our way of trying to say that Lou Dimes is some kind of hero, even if he does save the day when Mapes is flat on his keister and can't seem to get himself back up (17.14). What we're getting at here is that the fact that Lou just so happens to be a reporter—kind of like the fact that Clark Kent is never around when Superman comes to the rescue—isn't just some random coincidence. 

Lou is a reporter by trade, and that's a big deal. Gil's pal Sully even recognizes Lou as one of the reporters at a recent LSU game (10.49). Reporters are supposed to report the facts, and just the facts. This is why Gaines sets up Lou to be the person we hear from the most throughout the novel. As a reporter, it's his job to, well, report on stuff, including what's going down at the old Marshall Plantation. 

That's not all that's going on with Lou, though. Nope. Not by a long shot. Ask yourself: why is it that we should be able to trust Lou? Well, saying a reporter only reports the facts also means that all of the prejudices, hang-ups, and biases that go into the opinions people have—or that the characters in this story might have, for that matter—shouldn't change how the reporter tells us the story. This is super-important to keep in mind, because this is Gaines's way of acknowledging Lou's hang-ups and prejudices—Lou even drops the N-word when he's talking to Candy early on (8.49). 

As well, since he's Candy's boyfriend, you can better believe he's a little too close to the "story" to be totally unbiased (you can bet he doesn't want her going to jail, obviously). In other words, Lou is a normal guy, and we shouldn't think of him as some amazing hero. He's just somebody who knows how to put all of that personal garbage aside and get the job done. 

Don't Believe Everything that You Read 

Reporters are supposedly a more curious bunch than most, which is part of the reason why Lou starts asking questions as soon as he shows up at Marshall. "Now what I was trying to figure out," Lou tells us the first time we hear from him, "was who in Marshall Quarters could—not would—kill Beau Boutan" (8.1). Of course, try as he might, he just can't get to the bottom of what's going on. Candy even tells him, after he calls her out for lying about the fact that she killed Beau, that she's going to tell that story to all of the major news outlets—be they TV, radio, or print (8.41). Poor Lou. You just can't help but feel a little bit sorry for him. 

Gaines doesn't just want us to feel for him, though. The fact is, Lou really can't get to the bottom of what's going on. Everybody he meets up with at Marshall—including his lady friend—is telling their own versions of the truth. Kind of like the way that Gaines wants to keep Lou human, this is Gaines's way of challenging our idea that we should believe what we read in the papers, hear on TV, or catch on the radio. Things, or so Gaines would have us believe, are usually way more complicated than that—especially when it comes to any issues touching on race, or histories of oppression. 

Gaines is encouraging us to look beyond the obvious and dig a little deeper when we want to understand stuff like that. Candy and Lou might be okay at the ending of A Gathering of Old Men, but Gaines doesn't necessarily want us to be okay with everything we've just experienced.

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