Study Guide

Snookum in A Gathering of Old Men

By Ernest J. Gaines

Snookum

Of all the characters we meet in A Gathering of Old Men, Snookum is probably the youngest one. Granted, in a novel where most of the folks you meet are well into their eighties, that probably isn't saying much, but it at least explains little George's nickname. It sounds like something you might call a baby because, at least compared to pretty much everybody else in Gaines's novel, Snookum is a baby.

Snookum might be a little kid, but that doesn't mean he's not important. All of the characters, in one way or another, represent a particular kind of past—a past spent living in fear and anxiety because of white racist oppression. Snookum, on the other hand, represents something else. Just think on back to when Snookum mouths off to Sheriff Mapes: "Wish I was a little older," he tells Mapes, "so I coulda shot him." As if that weren't enough, when Mapes cracks a joke about how he was sure Snookum was about to confess to Beau's murder too, Snookum doesn't let up for a second. "I ain't got no more to say," Snookum growls back, telling Mapes "you can beat me with a hose pipe if you want" (9.237-39). 

Snookum's definitely got some nerve talking to a grown white guy like that, especially a grown white guy with a badge who could make things really tough for his Aunt Glo and the rest of his family. But Snookum isn't afraid. That's because he represents a very special future, a future where the memory of how some people stood up to racism makes the next generation unafraid to stand up and fight back, too.