Study Guide

A Gathering of Old Men Men and Masculinity

By Ernest J. Gaines

Men and Masculinity

We've got to get super-serious for a minute, because issues or ideas of manhood or masculinity, when they get connected to issues of race, are way more complicated than you might think. Since even before Blacks were being stolen out of Africa and taken to the US to work as slaves, white racist understandings of Black men actually denied that they were men at all. They were considered either docile and happily stupid children who needed the structure of life as a slave to become civilized, or they were considered dumb savages who had more in common with animals than with other human beings. These ideas were designed to justify the brutal enslavement and abuse of Black men. This means that part of pushing back against white racism, for Black males, meant arguing for the fact that they were, in fact, men. That's one of the reasons why manhood figures so prominently in <em>A Gathering of Old Men</em>.

Questions About Men and Masculinity

  1. Among the novel's Black and white characters, are there any differences or similarities between ideas about what exactly makes a man?
  2. How might social class figure into ideals of masculinity or manliness?
  3. Based on different character interactions, how do you think that Gaines himself is using these characters to define a particular understanding of manhood?

Chew on This

Gaines makes a troubling connection between violence, abusive behavior, and manliness that implies "being a man" means harming others.

The ideals of manliness that Gaines points to in <em>A Gathering of Old Men</em> are sexist and potentially homophobic.

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