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.
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those snake-infested weeds and dirt have been replaced by images of lovely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?
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
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.
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. […]
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.
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?
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.
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?