Study Guide

A Gathering of Old Men Summary

By Ernest J. Gaines

A Gathering of Old Men Summary

It's just another quiet day near Marshall Plantation. Old Aunt Glo is feeding her little nieces and nephews a healthy little meal. Then Candy Marshall shows up, and things get a whole less quiet.

She tells Glo's nephew George—whom everybody calls "Snookum"—to get a hold of Lou Dimes—a big city reporter and Candy's main squeeze—and Miss Merle, the owner of what remains of another plantation. Along the way to Miss Merle's place, Snookum's also supposed to tell Rufe and pretty much every other African American male in the place to get over to Mathu's quick. Beau Boutan's corpse is getting ripe in the grass outside Mathu's house—and everybody knows Fix's (Beau's dad) unhealthy obsession with revenge, destruction, and murder. 

A few hours later, literally every male member of the Black community around Marshall has shown up at Mathu's house, along with a few women and children, including Candy herself. Oh, and all the men are carrying shotguns with at least one empty shotgun shell—the same type of shotgun and caliber of shell that killed Beau. Not long after the Gun Club for Men starts hanging out around Mathu's front porch, Lou Dimes shows up—with Sherriff Mapes, and you had better believe that Mapes is not thrilled by what he sees. He's also more than slightly afraid of what might happen if Fix Boutan jets down to Marshall with some of his redneck pals and sees a group of elderly, shotgun-toting Black men in the wake of his son's killing. 

Mapes tries to get to the bottom of all of it and get it all over with before Fix has a chance to do the kind of awful hideousness that he does best, but the old tried-and-true scare tactics that Mapes has used in the past aren't flying that day. Everybody there is taking credit for sending Beau on a one-way trip to that Honky-Tonk bar in the sky. 

While all of this is going on, Gil Boutan, a star football player at LSU and Beau's brother, gets the news that his older bro has gone to meet his Maker. Confused, angry, and hurt, Gil heads on back to the Boutan home and has a heart-to-heart with his not-so warm and cuddly daddy. Gil begs Fix not to do anymore of the evil things that he's done in the past, and Fix agrees—after he disowns Gil, that is. 

Gil is pretty upset in more ways than one, but Luke Will—one of Beau's drinking buddies with a whole lot of hate, not a lot of brains, and ties to the Ku Klux Klan—is angry for a completely different reason. He promises that bad things are going to happen to Black folks in Marshall, whether Fix is there himself or not. 

The next thing you know, it's back to Marshall Plantation, and Sheriff Mapes is just about as happy as a five-year-old on his sixth birthday when he finds out that Fix isn't planning on showing up. When he tells everybody the news, Mathu agrees to head over to the station and go down for killing Beau. Most of the old men are pretty upset, because they'd been secretly loading fresh ammo into their shotguns this whole time, and were planning on either taking Fix out, or going down in a blaze of glory. 

That's when Big Charlie shows up. He admits to killing Beau in self-defense, and says he's ready to take his medicine and take his chances with the law. 

But Charlie isn't the only unexpected guest who shows up late to the shotgun party. Luke Will and some of his redneck pals show up too, drunk and armed with guns of their own. When one of them wings Mapes (who's too fat to get up afterwards), a firefight kicks off. At the end of it, one of Luke's pals is wounded, and Luke and Charlie are dead. When the case goes to trial, the judge gives every surviving member of the battle at Marshall five years of probation. Mathu and his pals head back to Marshall, leaving Candy and Lou holding hands and watching the dust clouds that the truck kicks up as it leaves.