Study Guide

A Gathering of Old Men Justice and Judgment

By Ernest J. Gaines

Justice and Judgment

Chapter 8
Sheriff Mapes

"You ever seen anybody die in the electric chair, old man?" Mapes asked Uncle Billy.

            Uncle Billy's head went on bobbing. "No, sir," he said.

            "It's not a pretty sight, Uncle Billy. Not when that juice hit you. That's how you want to go?"

            "No, sir. But if I have to."

            "Even if you have to, Uncle Billy, you don't want to go that way," Mapes told him. "When that juice hit you, I've seen that chair dance. You see, Uncle Billy, we don't have a permanent chair in Bayonne. When we need one, we go to Angola to pick it up. And we don't waste time screwing it down—not for just one killing. And when that juice hit you, I've seen that chair rattle, I've seen it dance. Not a pretty sight, old man. Is that how you want to go?" (8.246-48)

We've already seen Mapes smack innocent old men around with no success, so now he uses the threat of a different kind of violence. Is there a connection between those two kinds of violence or force?

"For God's sake, Candy. Before Mapes gets here, tell me the truth. Did Mathu do this?"

            "I've already told you the truth," she said. "I did it."

            "Fix is going to demand a n*****'s blood, Candy. You know that, don't you?"

            She came up closer to me, her head even with my chest, her eyes blazing, her mouth trembling she was so angry.

            "I killed the son of a b****," she said. "That's what I'm going to tell Mapes, what I'm going to tell the radio, what I'm going to give television. I killed that son of a b****." (8.48-52)

How can there be any kind of accurate judgment without a clear view of the truth? Is justice even possible when everything else is a lie?

Mathu

"I tried talking. She wouldn't listen," I said.

"You tried throwing her butt into the back of that car?" Mapes asked.

"No, I didn't try that, Mapes," I told him. "I hear there's a law against kidnapping people. Especially on their own place."

"There's a law against harboring a murder, too," Mapes said. "You ever heard of that law?"

I didn't answer him. (8.166-69)

We don't know about you, but it sure does seem that the way the law normally works doesn't really seem to be working here, does it?

Chapter 9
Tucker

</em>"Where was the law?" he said, looking up at Mapes. He was crying now. "Where was the law? Law said he cut in on the tractor, and he was the one who started the fight. That's law for a n*****. That's law." He looked at Mapes. He wanted Mapes to face him. Mapes wouldn't. (9.139)

Tucker's words let us know that "equal protection under the law" doesn't really apply to people whose skin is a certain color. It even seems like Mapes is ashamed for a minute in this passage, because he knows that what Tucker is saying is true.

</em>And what did I do about them killing my boy like that? What could a poor n***** do but go up ot the white folks and fall on his knees? But no, no pity coming here. Some went so far as to say my boy shoulda been glad he died in the 'lectric chair 'stead of at the end of a rope. They said at least he was treated like a white man. And it was best we just forgot all about him. (9.169)

Poor, poor Gable. We can't even imagine what something like he went through would feel like. The really sad thing, though, is that a lot of his friends have been through a lot of the same kind of stuff.

Chapter 10
Gil Boutan

</em>"Don't you know who did it?" Gil asked.

"I think I do," Mapes said. "I'm sure I do."

"Then why don't you arrest him?"

"They all say the same thing. They all say they did it."

"But you know who did it?"

"Yes," Mapes said. "I know who did it. But the others threatened to come to town if I take him in. She says the same thing. I don't want this crowd in Bayonne. Not the way people are working themselves up for that game tomorrow. If you just come from Baton Rouge, you know what I'm talking about.

"What do you plan to do, Mapes?"

"I'll handle it my way." (10.69-79)

Wow, who is Mapes kidding? He was barely in control at the beginning of this whole thing, and he's not really in control now.

Chapter 12
William "Fix" Boutan

"What day is gone, Gi-bear?" Fix asked him. "The day when family responsibility is put aside for a football game? Is that the day you speak of, Gi-bear?"

            "I'm not speaking of responsibility, Papa," Gil said. "I'm speaking of the day of the vigilante. I'm speaking of Luke Will's idea of justice."

            "So I'm a vigilante now, huh, Gi-bear?" Fix asked him.

            "That's what Luke Will wants us to do," Gil said. "He and his gang still think the world needs them. The world has changed, Papa. Luke Will and his gang are a dying breed. They need a cause like this to pump blood back into their dying bodies." (12.140-3)

Yes, Fix—you are a vigilante. And here's where Gil just lays it all out, even if he doesn't directly say that to his dad.

Chapter 13

"You must care something for the place, the people who live there?"

"They live pretty well," Jack said. "They don't pay rent or anything."

"And what"s happening here now, that doesn't matter?"

"I don't see anything happening."

The fellow just looked at Jack. He couldn't believe Jack. But he didn't know Jack, either.

"In the end, it's people like us, you and I, who pay for this."

"Sure," Jack said. "But I've been paying my share seventy years already. How long have you been paying yours?"

"The debt is never finished as long as we stand for this," the teacher said. (13.119-126)

Is justice a kind of paying off of a debt? What "debt" do characters like Major Jack and the Professor need to pay? Are there characters who might "owe" more than others?