Study Guide

A Gathering of Old Men Chapter 13

By Ernest J. Gaines

Chapter 13

Jacques Thibeaux—a.k.a. "Tee Jack"

  • In this chapter we're behind the counter of a bar (that's also connected to a grocery store) with the owner and operate of both, Jacques Thibeaux.
  • Along with being an entrepreneur, he's also a disgustingly unapologetic racist. He's talking to us about a particular customer of his.
  • This customer has come into his bar every day for decades and always orders the same thing: two Jack Daniels on the rocks.
  • As he drinks them, Jack tells us, this guy always keeps his eyes glued to the door that used to lead to what Jack calls the "n***** room," the small room where Blacks were expected to go to drink, all locked away from the white folks.
  • Mentioning the door sends Jack on a stomach-churning trip down a racist memory lane where he talks about how things used to be before the civil rights movement.
  • When desegregation finally kicked in, Jack still refused to serve Black customers alongside his white ones, and he still won't today. He says that they can buy a bottle from the grocery store and sit outside and drink it if they're too good for the room.
  • Jack lets us know that he doesn't care what anybody says. That's just the way things are down there, according to him, and the way they're always going to be.
  • Even though it's been nearly 15 or 17 years, by Jack's reckoning, since any African American person has gone into the room, his customer still sits there drinking with his eyes glued to the door, no matter what's going on.
  • Sometimes, the customer doesn't even say anything at all, Jack tells us. He just sits there, staring.
  • Jack starts to wonder if the old guy isn't a little delusional, like he's hearing laughing and singing coming out of the room even though nobody's in there.
  • Jack is really, really obsessed with this customer.
  • He also feels sorry for him. He tells us that he can't blame the man for drinking like he does and losing a little bit more of his mind with every passing day.
  • Jack blames it on the pressure of having an important "name" in the community, of owning land and being responsible for it, of everybody looking at you like you're something special when you never asked for any of that. (Gaines is giving us clues here—who do you think this customer is?)
  • Apparently bored with this topic, Jack starts telling us about the two customers who were there before the whiskey-pounding door-watcher.
  • They were talking about the murder of Beau Boutan.
  • When this old drunk—who is still kind of a big deal—walks in, they all lower their voices, because, supposedly, they weren't supposed to know about the murder yet.
  • But, Jack goes on to explain, it's hard to keep news like that hidden in a place like the one where he lives.
  • When Charlie didn't show up with the cane like he was supposed to at the usual time, everybody knew something was up, anyway.
  • And when Robert Jarreau, the foreman at the mill, called up Fix to see what was keeping Beau,
  • Fix told Robert about Beau's murder. Now it's basically common knowledge.
  • The dude who Jack was talking to about this was a guy from Mississippi, in town for the LSU v. Ole Miss game. He tells Jack that—back in Mississippi—they have ways of dealing with stuff like this.
  • (In case you aren't sure, he's talking about lynch mobs and terrible stuff like that.)
  • The other customer is kind of an outsider. He's pale, keeps to himself, and has taken a seat some distance away from Jack and the redneck from Mississippi.
  • Jack (who's pulling for LSU) and the Mississippi fella (who's pulling for Ole Miss) have a little friendly banter about who's going to win as the Mississippi dude gets up to leave.
  • After he walks out, Jack starts griping to us about the quiet customer.
  • He can't get over the way the guy never talks and just doesn't seem friendly at all.
  • A short while later, Robert Jarreau walks into the bar.
  • Robert and Jack get to talking about the murder, with Jack pretending like he didn't know about it already and Robert acting like he hasn't said anything to anybody either.
  • Robert is excited because it's been a while since there's been a lynching in those parts. He figures that's exactly what Fix and his family are going to organize.
  • The customer who's been basically silent this whole time tells them both that those days are over.
  • Jack and his pal are a little shocked, but they keep right on talking. They're both convinced that Fix is going to raise some serious hell after dark.
  • Once again, the customer insists that those kinds of things just don't happen anymore.
  • He turns to the door-watching whiskey drinker—who is the Major, by the way—and asks him if he agrees with him.
  • The Major—whose full name is Jack Marshall—says he doesn't feel that things have changed all that much just yet.
  • In response, the nameless man says that he had hoped that things had progressed at least a little more than all of that.
  • The Major doesn't want to talk. He just wants to drink and stare at the door.
  • About that time, Luke Will and a few of his pals wander in.
  • Jack gives us a quick roll call: there's Sharp Thompson, Henry Tobias, Alcee Boudreaux, and a younger guy named Leroy Hall.
  • Next we learn that every member of that crew works two jobs: one that's a regular 9-5 gig and another that involves terrorizing innocent Black people. Jack says it like it's a joke.
  • Luke and his pals saunter up to the bar and demands a bottle of whiskey and some coca-colas.
  • Jack offers them beers instead, but Luke insists on whiskey and Coke.
  • Luke gives a hello to the Major, who reluctantly responds.
  • He lets the Major know that he's heard there's been some trouble out at the Major's place.
  • Not at all interested in talking to Luke, the Major avoids eye contact and says that he didn't have any trouble himself.
  • Not to be put off, Luke tells the Major he's talking about Beau's murder.
  • The Major obviously doesn't think too highly of Luke, but not for the same reasons that we don't. He just tells Luke that Beau got himself killed, implying it was his fault.
  • Still trying to be civil—which has got to be tough for a redneck idiot like Luke—he lets the Major know that it was one of "his n*****s" that did it.
  • The Major says that they were never his. They belong, he says, to his niece, Candy.
  • Luke demands to know where Candy is.
  • Still playing it cool and refusing to look at Luke, the Major says she's down in the quarters.
  • Luke accuses her of protecting her "n*****s."
  • The Major says he doesn't know what Candy is doing.
  • Finally getting to the point, Luke tells the Major that he thinks Mapes needs their help.
  • Playing dumb, the Major asks Luke what he means.
  • Jack—Tee Jack, that is—jumps in to tell us about what the men are drinking: a bottle of Old Crow whiskey with coca-cola chasers.
  • There's a bowl of ice in the center of them, and they keep digging ice out of it.
  • Their hands are so dirty that they leave a little pile of filth at the base of the bowl.
  • The quiet guy with no friends pipes up again. He says that letting the law do its thing is the best way to go.
  • Nobody says a thing to him in response. The dude just lights a pipe and goes right on sitting there.
  • Luke lets Jack know that Fix isn't going to do anything.
  • Naturally, Jack is surprised and, because he's a sick human being, probably a little disappointed.
  • He tells Luke that has to be a lie.
  • Already ticked off that Fix has backed down, Luke takes Jack's comment to mean that he's being called a liar.
  • He tells Jack that he better watch what he says.
  • In an attempt to call him down, Jack offers Luke and his pals free liquor (because getting them even more drunk is somehow magically going to make them become more reasonable?).
  • The quiet dude pipes up again, saying that he thinks it's the right thing to do.
  • Luke finally acknowledges the guy's existence and asks him what he said.
  • The guy repeats what he already told them about just letting the law do its thing.
  • Leroy—the young one—starts to act tough, asking who this guy is and where he's from.
  • The man answers that he's a college professor who teaches Black writing and other subjects.
  • (Not only is this guy standing up to a bunch of ignorant racists, he's also a literature professor. We love him.)
  • Leroy, after a little more ignorance, asks the professor if he's got a class he should be teaching, meaning that he wants him to leave.
  • The professor, saying he doesn't teach on Fridays, is basically telling Leroy he's not going anywhere.
  • Robert chimes in, saying that he's surprised that Fix is letting Mapes handle this.
  • Luke blames it all on Jean and Gil.
  • The Major finishes his drink and gets up to leave.
  • As he does, the professor asks the Major if he plans on doing anything.
  • The Major says he's going to let the law handle it.
  • The professor asks him if he thinks that's enough, if he cares anything for the people living on his property.
  • All the Major tells him is that he charges them no rent and that the people there live pretty well.
  • When the Major still refuses to acknowledge there's a problem with what's going on, the professor tells him that it's people like the two of them who pay for it.
  • The Major says he's been paying his share for seven decades, and asks the professor for how long he's been paying for his share.
  • In response, the professor tells him that everybody is going to have to keep paying as long as things like this keep happening.
  • The Major just keeps on walking and leaves.
  • Leroy makes fun of the professor, while Luke demands another bottle of booze.
  • The crowd starts to turn on the professor.
  • After a little not-so-light harassment, he leaves.
  • As he's leaving, the professor asks them not to do what they want to do again.
  • Surprise of all surprises, they just tell him to get a move on.
  • After he leaves, Luke starts giving Jack a hard time for letting the guy in at all.
  • Jack is afraid. He knows Luke and his pals are drunk, and they're mean enough when they're sober. (Apparently, they've put bunches of poisonous snakes inside of establishments they didn't care for before.)
  • They drink a little more, and Leroy says he's ready to kick some ass.
  • Robert gets up to leave, knowing things might get crazy.
  • Afraid of being there on his own with Luke and his crew, Jack tries to offer Robert a couple of drinks on the house.
  • It doesn't work.
  • Right as Leroy starts picking on Jack, Luke says that they all need to finish the second bottle of whiskey and get out of there.
  • You can bet they aren't going to church.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...