Study Guide

A Gathering of Old Men Men and Masculinity

By Ernest J. Gaines

Men and Masculinity

Chapter 1
Candy Marshall

"Now listen," she said. "I want you to run, and I don't want you to stop running. I want you to go tell Rufe and Reverend Jameson, and Corrine and the rest of them to gather at Mathu's house right away. And I want you to go to the front, and I want you to—listen to me good, now," she said, squeezing my shoulders and hurting me a little bit—"go up to the house and see if Miss Merle's there. If she is, tell her I say come quick. […] If she's not there, tell Janey to call her and Lou and tell them to get here quick. Don't waste time on the phone talking, just get here quick. Don't do nothing but get here quick. You heard what I said, Snookum?"

            "What am I telling all them people to get here quick for?" I asked her.

            "That's none of your business, Snookum. You're nothing but a little boy. Now, get moving and don't stop running." (1.18-20)

Sure, Candy's a grown-up and Snookum is a kid, but this is more than just Candy refusing to put up with any of Snookum's shenanigans. Candy bosses Snookum around because he's just a boy—but then what about the way she tries to boss around the older men, too? Do you think it means that she doesn't consider them "men" either?

Chapter 4
Mat

</em>Then that oldest boy of Berto, that sissy one they called Fue, come running down the riverbank and said Clatoo said Miss Merle said that young woman at Marshall, Candy, wanted us on the place right away. She wanted us to get twelve-gauge shotguns and number five shells and she wanted us to shoot, but keep the empty shells and get there right away.

            Me and Mat looked at him standing there sweating—a great big old round-face, sissy-looking boy, in blue jeans and a blue gingham shirt, the shirt wet from him running.

            Mat said, "All that for what?"

            The boy looked like he was ready to run some more. Sweat just pouring down the side of his face. He was one of them great big old sissy-looking boys—round, smooth, sissy-looking face.

            He said: "Something to do with Mathu, something to do with Beau Boutan dead in his yard. That's all I know, all I want to know. Up to y'all now. I done done my part. Y'all can go and do like she say or ya'll can go home, lock y'all doors, and crawl under the bed like y'all used to. Me, I'm leaving."

            "Where you going?" Mat called to him.

            "You and no Boutan'll ever know." (4.2-8)

So, it's a pretty safe bet that Chimley doesn't think much of Fue and his "sissy-looking" face—whatever that means. But check out what else is going on here. Not only is Fue basically called a sissy, but he's also on the run. This is a not-so subtle suggestion that "real men" don't run from trouble, they face it head on.

Chapter 9

Mapes was a lot of things. He was big, mean, brutal. But Mapes respected a man. Mathu was a man, and Mapes respected Mathu. But he didn't think much of the rest of us, and he didn't respect us. […]

            Mapes liked Mathu. They had hunted together. Wildcats, alligators, deers. They had fished together. And Mapes had had a few drinks with Mathu at Mathu's house. He liked Mathu. Even when Mathu got into trouble and he had to arrest Mathu, he knowed it wasn't Mathu's doing. But he knowed Mathu had never backed down from anybody, either. Maybe that's why he liked him. To him Mathu was a real man. The rest of us wasn't. (9.12-17)

We can't be sure, but we think it might just be the case that Mapes knows old Mathu could totally put the hurt on him if they go to trading punches that makes Mapes think twice about treating Mathu with disrespect.

"Lord, Lord, Lord. Don't tell me you can't remember them early mornings when that sun was just coming up over there behind them trees? Y'all can't tell me y'all can't remember how Jack and Red Rider used to race out into that field on them old single slides? Jack with Diamond, Red Rider with Job—touching the ground, just touching the ground to keep them sides steady. Hah. Tell me who could beat them two men plowing a row, hanh? Who? I'm asking y'all who?"

            "Nobody," Beulah said. "That's for sure. Not them two men. Them was men—them." (9.101-2)

So just what is it that gets Jack and Red Rider remembered for being "real men?" How hard they worked and how good they were at it. Add that to Gaines's definition of masculinity.

Chapter 11

</em>Miss Merle's birdlike red mouth tightened and untightened two or three times. From her eyes, you could see that she was questioning God's reason for putting her here at the same time He did the rest of us. God did not Answer her, so she turned on me.

            "And you're supposed to be a man? What kind of husband will you make if you let her kick—" She stopped again. I would not look at her, but I could feel her staring at me. She probably wanted to hit me, she wanted to hit somebody, but she was too much of a lady. (11.50-2)

Along with learning that Miss Merle is about to have a stroke since she's so stressed, this passage also tells us that outdated gender roles are alive and well in the South. Of course, they're probably doing fine everywhere else, too, unfortunately.

Chapter 14
Clatoo

</em>"Give us a couple minutes," Clatoo said. "You can spare us that."

            Mapes looked back at us on the walk. More of us had raised our guns belt-level.

            "All right," Mapes said to Clatoo. "You have a couple minutes. Make it quick. I'm tired now."

            "Y'all come on inside," Clatoo said to us. "Not you, Candy," he said to her.

            "Nobody's talking without me," Candy said, coming back toward the garry.

            "This time we have to, Candy," Clatoo said. "Just the men with guns."

            That stopped her. Nobody talked to Candy like that—Black or white. (14.44-50)

Whew, Candy is set to go <em>off</em> because of what Clatoo said—and Clatoo refuses to back down. Of course, it's not hard to feel like nobody's going to mess with you when you and sixteen of your friends are carrying loaded shotguns.

Chapter 15
Charlie Biggs

"I'm ready to go now, Sheriff," Charlie said to Mapes. "I'm ready to pay. I done dropped a heavy load. Now I know I'm a man."

            "After you, Mr. Biggs," Mapes said, and nodded toward the door.

            "What's that you called me, Sheriff?" Charlie asked him.

            "Mr. Biggs," Mapes said, and with sincerity.

            Charlie grinned—a great, big, wide-mouthed, big-teeth grin. It was a deep, all-heart, true grin, a grin from a man who had been a boy fifty years.

            "Y'all heard that?" he said to the people around him. "Y'all heard that? Mr. Biggs. Y'all heard him, huh? Now y'all go on home. For a bunch of old men, y'all did all right today. Now go on home. Let a man through." (15.68-73)

No matter what you think about Gaines's macho version of manliness, you've just got to love big Charlie Biggs. We mean, you've got to love Mr. Charlie Biggs.

"I'm a man, Sheriff," Charlie said. "I want the world to know I'm a man. I'm a man, Miss Candy. I'm a man, Mr. Lou. I want you to write in your paper I'm a man."

"I'll write it, Charlie," I said, looking up at him. He was three or four inches taller than I, and outweighed me, I'm sure, by at least a hundred pounds.

"I'm a man," he said. "I want the world to know it. I ain't Big Charlie, n***** boy, no more, I'm a man. Y'all hear me? A man come back. Not no n***** boy. A n***** boy run and run and run. But a man come back. I'm a man." (15.34-6)

It might be hard to imagine that somebody as massive as Charlie can feel like a child, but there you have it.