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
Among the novel's Black and white characters, are there any differences or similarities between ideas about what exactly makes a man?
How might social class figure into ideals of masculinity or manliness?
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
The ideals of manliness that Gaines points to in <em>A Gathering of Old Men</em>
are sexist and potentially homophobic.