Study Guide

Mat in A Gathering of Old Men

By Ernest J. Gaines

Mat

Not to be confused with Mathu, Mat is one of the first Marshall residents we meet when we happen upon him hanging out and doing some fishing with his good pal Chimley. It just so happens that Mat's exchange with his lifelong friend is pretty important, because it gives us a glimpse into the feelings of frustration and fear that most of the Black residents at Marshall feel. Even more important, though, is what goes down between Mathu and his wife, Ella, when she asks him about what he and the other fellas are up to. After she asks him just what is the matter with him, and why he's so fired up, here's what Mat says: 

What's the matter with me? […] All these years we been living together, woman, you still don't know what's the matter with me? The years we done struggled in George Medlow's field, making him richer and richer and us getting poorer and poorer—and you still don't' know what's the matter with me? The yeas I done stod out on that front garry and cussed the world, the times I done come home drunk and beat you for no reason at all—and, woman, you still don't know what's the matter with me? Oliver, Woman! […] Oliver. How they let him die in the hospital just 'cause he was Black. No doctor to serve him, let him bleed to death, 'cause he was Black. And you ask me what's the matter with me? (5.36) 

Whew. There is a whole mess of really intense stuff happening there. Not only do we find out that Mat and Ella lost a son because white doctors wouldn't work on him, but we also find out that all of the hideous things that Mat has done have been done out of anger and a sense of real helplessness. Not only is Gaines yet again highlighting the disastrous effects of racism here, but he's doing even more to show he coping with it can make people do awful things—all the more reason to try and stamp it out for good.