Study Guide

A Gathering of Old Men Visions of the "Gallant South"

By Ernest J. Gaines

Visions of the "Gallant South"

Chapter 2

I went out the back door and looked—and there she was, way over yonder, under one of them pecan trees, little bitty thing, ain't five foot tall, feeling in all them weeds with a stick for pecans. Lord Jesus, I thought to myself, now just s'posing, just s'posing, now, a snake or something come up there and bite that old woman in them weeds. (2.3)

And there you have it. The once green and fertile ground of a plantation worked by hundreds of hands (and, yeah, we mean slaves) reduced to an old drunk white woman poking around in a bunch of weeds with a stick. My how the mighty have fallen.

Chapter 3

</em>While she took the pie to the kitchen, I went out to the west gallery looking for Bea. I found her sitting in her rocking chair by the door. Gazing across the flower garden toward the trees in the outer pasture. Beyond the trees was the road that led you down into the quarters. At the mouth of the road was the main highway, leading toward Bayonne, and just on the other side of the highway was the St. Charles River. A light breeze had just risen up from the river, and I caught a faint odor from the sweet-olive bush which stood in the far right corner of the garden. (3.89)

Notice that all of those snake-infested weeds and dirt have been replaced by images of lovely trees and flower gardens? What do you think this tells you about Miss Merle and the way she chooses to see things?

Chapter 4

We goes fishing every Tuesday and Thursday. We got just one little spot now. Ain't like it used to be when you had the whole river to fish on. The white people, they done bought up the river now, and you got nowhere to go but that one little spot. Me and Mat goes there every Tuesday and Thursday. Other people use it other days, but on Tuesday and Thursday they leaves it for us. We been going to that one little spot like that every Tuesday and Thursday the last ten, 'leven years. (4.1)

"Ain't like it used to be." That phrase right there sums up a whole lot of what's going on in <em>A Gathering of Old Men</em>. How does the fishing schedule that Chimley and Mat keep connect back to issues of race?

Chapter 6

</em>After about half a mile, we turned right on another headland. You had cane here, too, but just on one side. On the left the cane had been cut and hauled away, and you could see all the way back to the swamps. It made me feel lonely. In made me feel lonely. In my old age, specially in grinding, when I saw an empty cane field, it always made me feel lonely. The rows looked so naked and gray and lonely—like an old house where the people have moved from. Where good friends have moved from, leaving the house empty and bare, with nothing but ghosts now to keep it company. (6.8)

Cherry says some pretty deep stuff here, comparing the cane that's disappeared to the years of his life that have done the same. It's probably not an accident that he mentions ghosts, because this passage can really haunt you if you let it.

Dirty Red

</em>After I had knelt down and prayed over my own family plot, I wandered over to where dirty Red was standing all by himself. He was eating a pecan and looking down at the weeds that covered the graves. […]

            "My brother Gabe there," Dirty Red said. I didn't know for sure what spot he was looking at, because soon as he said he cracked another pecan with his teeth. […] My mon, Jude; my pa, Francois, right there," he said. I still didn't know for sure where he was looking. "Uncle Ned right in there—somewhere," he said.

            The whole place was sunked in, and you had weeds everywhere, so I couldn't tell for sure where Dirty Red was looking. (6.23-5)

Throughout his novel, Gaines seems to be telling us a lot about the connection that Marshall's Black community has with the land. How would you describe that connection?

Chapter 8

</em>The length of the quarters was a little less than half a mile, beginning with the highway and going back into the fields. The bushes and weeds grew so tall on either side of the road that the road seemed no wider than a king-sized bed sheet. Somewhere down there I could make out a tractor and a car. As I came deeper into the quarters, I noticed that there were no people around. The doors and windows of the few old houses were open, but no one sat out on the porches, and no one stood in the yard or worked in the gardens. The place looked as if everyone had suddenly picked up and gone. (8.3)

Yeah, they picked up and went alright. They picked up some shotguns and went looking for a fight. Lou is in for a real surprise, but he still manages to give us the best description of the quarters we get.

From Marshall to the Bayou Michel is about ten miles, five miles along the St. Charles River, and then you turn off the highway onto a blacktop road for another five miles. The Bayou Michel is then on your right, and houses on the left are facing the bayou. The road and bayou twist and turn like a snake. There's never more than a couple hundred yards of straight road before you have to go round another curve.

            This was Cajun country. You had a few other whites, a few Blacks, but mostly Cajuns, with names like Jarreau, Bonaventura, Mouton, Montmare, Boutan, Broussard, Geurin […] all Cajun names. There were people back here with names like Smith and Kelly, and they claimed to be Cajuns, too, having married Cajun women. The Blacks on the bayou also spoke the Cajun French as well as the English.

Here, Sully gives us a look at where Gil's people live. It seems a whole lot different from the world that Miss Bea and Major Jack live in, doesn't it?

"Y'all remember how it used to be?" Johnny Paul said. He wasn't answering Beulah, he wasn't even speaking to her, or to Mapes now. He was just thinking out loud, the way a man talk to himself plowing the fields by himself or hunting in the swamps with nothing but a gun, not even a dog. "Remember?" he said. "When they wasn't no weeds—remember? Remember how they used to sit out there on the garry—Mama, Papa, Aunt Clara […] Remember? Everybody had flowers in the yard. But nobody had four-o'clocks like Jack Touissant. Every day at four o'clock, they opened up just as pretty. Remember?"

In this little bit from Johnny Paul, the memory of the land and the way it used to be is kind of a metaphor for all of the memories that keep Marshall's Black community together, and for all of their shared experiences. That's a whole lot to connect back to some little flowers, huh?