Study Guide

A Gathering of Old Men Society and Class

By Ernest J. Gaines

Society and Class

Chapter 3

</em>"Now, what did you say Candy did?" she asked. That gal got spunk, just like Grandpa Nate."

            "My God," I said. "My God, Beatrice. Candy just told me she killed somebody. Is that all you got to say, she's just like her grandpa?"

            "My grandpa," she said. "Her great-grandpa. Her grandpa grandpa. About the time he shot one of them Cajuns, messing up the land with those tractors. Yes, that gal's got spunk in her. (3.92-4)

Why isn't Bea worried? Sure, she's a senile old drunk, but that's not the only reason. To her, a Cajun life is cheap because Cajuns aren't rich. Pretty gross, huh?

I had Lucy bake me an apple pie, because I knew how much Jack just liked his apple pie. I told Lucy when she came to work that morning if she baked me the best apple pie she ever baked in her life I would give her half a day off. She told me don't worry. And I'll be darn if she didn't bake the best one I had ever seen or tasted. […] I told her, at twelve o'clock sharp, she could take off because I am a woman of my word. (3.1)

Seriously?! Miss Merle's housekeeper bakes the world's best apple pie and she only gets a half-day off? Not only do we find out that Miss Merle is obviously wealthy (and white) in this passage, but that she's completely clueless, too.

Chapter 5

I heard Clatoo out there […] and I wiped my face and went out on the garry. Clatoo was in that old green pickup truck he used for peddling his garden. He had on that little narrow-brim straw hat, a white shirt, and a bow tie. Clatoo always let you know he was a businessman. (5.39)

Now isn't that something? Looks like there's some differences in status among the old men, too. What do you think sets Clatoo apart from them?

Chapter 6

</em>Mathu was one of them blue-black Singaleese n*****s. Always bragged about not having no white man's blood in his veins. He looked down on the rest of us who had some, and the more you had, the more he looked down on you. I was brown-skinned—my grandpa white, my grandma Indian and Black, both my parents Black; so he didn't look down on me quite as much as he did some others. (6.2)

Just what's a quote that has so much to do with race doing in this section? Well, take a look at how race works here. It basically sets up a hierarchy that is kind of like a class system. Why do you think that is?

Chapter 9

</em>We had got the worst land from the start, and no matter how hard we worked it, the people with the best land was go'n be in front. All you old people know this already. After the plantation was dying out, the Marshalls dosed out the land for sharecropping, giving the best land to the Cajuns, and giving us the worst—the bottomland near the swamps. Here, our own Black people had been working this land a hundred years for the Marshall Plantation, but when it comes to sharecropping, now they give the best land to the Cajuns, who had never set foot on this land before. (9.106)

Since we already know that folks like the Marshalls weren't big fans of the Cajuns, you can bet their decision to give them the best land so they could get ahead didn't have a thing to do with anything but plain and simple racism. Once again, we see race and class working together in a really nasty way here.

Chapter 10
Gil Boutan

</em>Gil turned back to Candy. "You never did like Beau," he said. "You never liked any of us. Looking at us as if we were a breed below you. But we're not, Candy. We're all made of the same bone, the same blood, the same skin. Your folks had a break, mine didn't, that's all.

            She looked past him, like he wasn't even there. She looked tired, but other than that she showed no expression.

            "My God," Gil said. "My god, my God. Candy, if you only knew how sad, how pathetic you look."

            She pretended not to even hear him. And maybe she didn't. (10.107-9)

Whoa. Gil says some pretty heavy stuff here. He's talking about class discrimination, but couldn't what he's saying apply to racial discrimination, too?

Chapter 13

You know, I sympathize with him. 'Cause you see he never wanted none of this. Never wanted to be responsible for name and land. They dropped it on him, left it on him. That's why he drinks the way he does, and let that niece of his run the place. Let her have it, he don't care. Don't care if it go to hell. He want to it to go to hell. To hell with it. (13.3)

Gee whiz, Poor Major Jack. Boo hoo hoo. Leave it to a racist knucklehead like Tee Jack to sympathize with the wrong person.

"I think Mapes needs help," Luke Will said.

            Jack looked at him, but with no more feeling than if he was looking at a chinaball tree or a fence post. He showed more concern looking at that door to the n***** room than he did looking at live Luke Will. (13.64-5)

Don't think that the Major is acting the way he is because he can't stand the fact that Luke Will's a racist. Nope. He can't stand Luke Will because he's poor.