Study Guide

A Gathering of Old Men Change

By Ernest J. Gaines

Change

Chapter 3
Mathu

"I told you no questions Janey, just answers," I said. "We don't have time for both of us to ask questions. I ask questions, you answer them. Now, who do you know don't like Fix?"

            "I don't like him," Bea said. "Why we ever let that kind on this land, I don't know. The land has not been the same since they brought those tractors here."

            "Beatrice, please shut up," I said. Please. Please, Beatrice" (3.100-2)

There's Miss Bea with her upper-class snootiness again—but that's not all. The "tractors" that she's talking about are one of our first glimpses of progress in the novel, and their arrival just so happens to be connected to the Marshall family's shrinking wealth.

Chapter 6
Mathu

"You got plenty of us in here," I said, looking around the graveyard. I could see Mat, Chimley, Yank—all of them standing near their people's graves. "This where you want them to bring you?" I asked Dirty Red.

            "Might as well, if it's still here," he said.

            "They getting rid of these old graveyards more and more," I said. These white folks coming up today don't have no respect for the dead." (6.32-4)

Well, I suppose we shouldn't be surprised by what Cherry's talking about, but you have to admit that covering over the graves of somebody's dead loved ones is awfully heartless.

</em>We still had cane, tall and blue-green, on both sides of the road. Morgan on the left, Marshall on the right. But it wasn't Marshall cane anymore. Beau Boutan was leasing the plantation from the Marshall family. Beau and his family had been leasing the land the past twenty-five, thirty years. The very same land we worked, our people had worked, our people's people had worked since the time of slavery. Now Mr. Beau had it all. Or, should I say, he had it all up to about twelve o'clock that day. (6.7)

Whoa—what a burn. We suppose it's a good thing none of the Boutans heard that last one. But there's some pretty justifiable anger in Cherry's comment. Do you think it was right that the land went to the Boutan family?

Chapter 8
Candy Marshall

</em>"Beau Boutan still lived in the past," she said. "He still thought he could beat people like his paw did thirty, forty years ago. […] When he stopped that tractor out there, I told him not to cross that ditch. When he didn't stop, I reached and got that shotgun Mathu keeps behind the door." (8.82)

Sure, we all know that Candy is lying—but dig what she says about old Beau. Of course, Candy is living in her own version of the past too, isn't she?

Chapter 9
Johnny Paul

</em>Johnny Paul nodded his head. Not to Beulah. He wasn't looking at her. He was looking way off again, down the quarters toward the field.

            "Thirty, forty of us going out in the field with cane knives, hoes, plows—name it. Sunup to sundown, hard miserable work, but we managed to get it done. We stuck together, shared what little we had, and loved and respected each other.

            "But just look at things today. Where the people? Where the roses?" (9.103-5)

Johnny Paul gives us a seriously moving image of the way things used to be, and of a community struggling to stay together in the face of so much trying to tear it apart.

Tucker

</em>"How can a man beat a machine?" he asked. "No way? Hanh? That's what you say? Well, my brother did. With them two little mules, he beat the tractor to the derrick. Them two little mules did all they could, like my brother did. They knowed it was the end if they couldn't make it. They could hear the machine like everybody else could hear the machine, and they knowed they had to pull, pull, pull if they wanted to keep going. My brother and mules, mules and my brother. So they pulled for him and pulled for him and pulled for him, sweating, slipping, falling, but pulling for him. Slobber running from their mouths, the bit cutting their lips, the slobber and blood mixing and falling to the ground, yet they pulled, pulled, pulled, in all that mud for him." (9.133)

Tucker's story gives us a really, really close look at the fight to protect a way of life and, at the same time, the dignity that comes from hard work.

Chapter 12
Gil Boutan

"They ain't got no more horses to break anymore. The tractors, the cane cutters, and I ain't been nothing ever since. They look at you today and call you trifling, 'cause they see you sitting there all the time doing nothing. They can't remember when you used to break all the horses. […] Well, I remember. And I know who took it from me, too."

            "You ever heard of progress?" Mapes asked him. Mapes had been wiping his face and neck again.

            "I ain't thinking "bout no progress. I'm thinking "bout breaking horses."

There's no denying it: Mapes just does not get it—or he just refuses to get it.

"Luke Will's days are over with, Papa," Gil said. "Luke Will's days are past. Gone forever."

            "And mine?" Fix asked him. "Mine, Gi-bear?"

            "Those days are gone, Papa, Gil said. […] These are the seventies, soon to be the eighties. Not the twenties, not the thirties, not the forties. People died—people we knew—died to change those things. Those days are gone forever, I hope." (12.138-9)

We've got to admit, these words Gil says to his dad took some serious courage, but they sure are powerful.