Study Guide

A Gathering of Old Men Power

By Ernest J. Gaines

Power

Chapter 3
Mrs. Beatrice Marshall

"What did you say?" Bea asked, looking up at me. Her little overpowdered white face was as wrinkled as a prune. Her blue-dyed hair was so thin you could see her gray skull. Only her grayish-blue eyes were still alive and youthful, but now angry. "What did you say?" she asked me again. "You told her don't? This is not Seven Oakes, Miss, this is Marshall. At Marshall I say don't and I say do. She looked at Janey just as hard as she had looked at me. "What are you waiting on?" she asked her.

            "Yes, Ma'am," Janey said, and went back inside. (3.89)

Well, now. Miss Merle and Miss Bea are both a couple of wealthy white ladies, but it sure sounds like there's a little power struggle going on in the above passage, huh? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Miss Merle has a thing for the Major.

Chapter 4

</em>It started over a Coke bottle. After Fix had drunk his Coke, he wanted Mathu to take the empty bottle back in the store. Mathu told him he wasn't nobody's servant. Fix told him he had to take the bottle back into the store or fight.

            A bunch of us was out there, white and Black, sitting on the garry eating gingerbread and drinking pop. The sheriff, Guidry, was there, too. Mathu told Guidry if Fix started anything, he was go'n to protect himself. Guidry went on eating his gingerbread and drinking pop like he didn't even hear him.

When Fix told Mathu to take the bottle back in the store again, and Mathu didn't, Fix hit him—and the fight was on. Worst fight I ever seen in my life. For a hour it was toe to toe. But when it was over, Mathu was up, and Fix was down. The white folks wanted to lynch Mathu, but Guidry stopped them. (4.26-8)

If this passage looks kind of familiar, it should, but we've included it here again because it's extra important. And that's because it has a whole lot less to do with an empty Coke bottle than it does with struggle over power between two major characters.

Chapter 7

Now she started telling me what happened. I listened good, but I could see from the start that she was lying. For one thing, I knowed what Mathu meant to that family, and specially to her. Besides that, she was trying too hard to make me believe her. Like most of these white folks you'll find round here, when they trying to convince you they'll look you dead in the eye, daring you to think otherwise from what they want you to think. (7.1)

Now this sure is something. Here, we've got Candy talking like she's got some real power and authority—which she does—but then we get the commentary from Clatoo that lets us know he's just playing along with it all. Doesn't that kind of mean that Candy doesn't have as much power as she thinks she does here?

Chapter 8

</em>"I kilt him," Uncle Billy said. Uncle Billy stood by the garden fence where Griffin had put him half an hour ago. His lips were swollen from where Mapes had hit him. He seemed as proud of his swollen lips as was Crane's boy in <em>The Red Badge of Courage</em>.<em> </em>(8.212)

Not only is Billy proud of the fact that he stood up to Mapes, but the reference to Crane's Civil War novel is meant to show us that Billy—and the rest of the folks at Marshall—are fighting a battle all their own.

</em>The people did not look at him as he moved toward them. They didn't seem afraid; they just didn't think he was important enough to look at. Aunt Glo's little grandson Snookum suddenly stood up before him. Griffin told him to sit back down before he slapped him down. Griffin was very tough around the very old and the very young. But instead of sitting back down, the boy jumped off the steps and started toward Mapes. Candy, who had not been standing too far from Mapes, now got between him and the boy, and told the boy to go back. He stopped, but he did not return to the steps until his grandmother called him. (8.135)

He might be little, but Snookum's got some big attitude in this passage. The fact that he refuses to listen to anybody except old Aunt Glo is pretty important, because it signals that he's not going to pay attention to white authority figures or their threats.

Chapter 9
Clatoo

</em>"It ain't go'n work this time, Sheriff," Clatoo said, from the end of the garry.

            Mapes turned his head quick. "Who said that?" he asked. He heard where the voice came from, and he knowed it was Clatoo's voice, but he didn't think Clatoo would own up to it. "I said who said that?" he asked.

            "I did, Sheriff," Clatoo said.

            Mapes pretended he couldn't find Clatoo in the crowd. Clatoo was the only person sitting on that end of the garry, and still Mapes pretended he couldn't find him. Then we he did, he stared at Clatoo long and hard. He though if he stared long enough, Clatoo was bound to look down. But Clatoo didn't look down. He sat there with that shotgun over his legs, looking straight back at Mapes. (9.35-8)

We get another glimpse at the way white characters try and assert their power in this passage. Not only does he act like Clatoo isn't important enough to remember by sight, but Mapes tries to stare him down with his cold hard eyes. And, surprise, surprise: Clatoo isn't having any of it.

"Get a gun if you want to talk, Jameson."

            "No, Mr. Clatoo," Jameson said. "I won't get a gun."

            "Then you better shut up," Clatoo said. "People with guns speak first here today."

            "So she made you the leader?" Mapes asked Clatoo.

            Clatoo didn't even look at him. And there ain't nothing a white man hate more than for a n***** not to look at him when he speak to him. (9.180-4)

Sometimes, a struggle for power doesn't have to be as obvious as fifteen guys with shotguns hanging out near a porch. Sometimes, it's as simple as a quick answer and a glance to prove you're not afraid.

Chapter 19

But we had all gathered around Charlie. Mathu knelt down 'side him and raised his head out of the dust. They had really got him. Right in the belly. He laid there like a big old bear looking up at us. He was trying to say something, but it never came out. He kept on looking at us, but after a while you could tell he wasn't seeing us no more. I leaned over and touched him, hoping some of that stuff he had found back there in the swamps might rub off on me. After I touched him, the rest of the men did the same. Then the women, even Candy. Then Glo told her grandchildren they must touch him, too. (19.41)

Along with being a beautiful farewell (we know we got a little choked up), this touching of Charlie's body represents each person there taking a little bit of the power that Charlie's last stand symbolized, and making it their own.