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A Gathering of Old Men

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Set on a Louisiana sugarcane plantation in the 1970s, A Gathering of Old Men is a powerful depiction of racial tensions arising over the death of a Cajun farmer at the hands of a black man.


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Set on a Louisiana sugarcane plantation in the 1970s, A Gathering of Old Men is a powerful depiction of racial tensions arising over the death of a Cajun farmer at the hands of a black man.

30 review for A Gathering of Old Men

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lawyer

    A Gathering of Old Men: The Way It Used to Be I selected A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest J. Gaines as the Moderator's Choice for September, 2017, for On the Southern Literary Trail. This is the fourth book by Professor Gaines to be read by "The Trail." Come join us. All but one of Ernest J. Gaines' works are set in and around Bayonne, Louisiana. Perhaps a bit strange for a man who has spent more than half his life in California. But it is something that comes as no surprise considering Gaines' chi A Gathering of Old Men: The Way It Used to Be I selected A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest J. Gaines as the Moderator's Choice for September, 2017, for On the Southern Literary Trail. This is the fourth book by Professor Gaines to be read by "The Trail." Come join us. All but one of Ernest J. Gaines' works are set in and around Bayonne, Louisiana. Perhaps a bit strange for a man who has spent more than half his life in California. But it is something that comes as no surprise considering Gaines' childhood. He was born January 15, 1933, on a plantation in Pointe Coupee, Louisiana. He was one of twelve children. They were among the fifth generation of the family to live on that plantation. His Grandparents were slaves. His ancestors lie buried in a cemetery at the rear of that plantation. Many of the graves bear no marker, no names, nothing to identify his ancestors. By the time Gaines was nine he was picking cotton on the plantation. He lived in a small cabin among many others that at one time had been slave quarters. His first education was in the plantation school, held in the plantation church. No black child attended a school where white children were allowed to go. It was the way it used to be. Neither Gaines or any of the other children on the plantation had access to a library. Those were for whites only. It was the way it used to be. Gaines and his siblings were raised by an aunt. She was crippled, unable to walk. She was raising Gaines, his brothers, and sisters, when she could only crawl. Ernest Gaines lived in poverty for the first fifteen years of his life. But his mother and stepfather took Ernest with them when they moved to Vallejo, California. Imagine waking in a new world. Imagine entering a library for the first time at the age of sixteen. The library was two stories tall. Non-fiction was on the first floor. Fiction on the second. Gaines went to the second story. He began to devour novels. He looked for books with people like him in them. He couldn't find them. Even a California library had no books by black authors. That was the way it used to be. He discovered he didn't care for other Southern novelists. He searched for novels set in farm country, the closest he could come to the life of his young years. He read John Steinbeck and Willa Cather. "See, I came from a society -- the South -- in which I wasn't supposed to do things, wasn't supposed to investigate things. I was supposed to stay in my place." Gaines only returned to Louisiana for short visits. However, as he entered college he was well aware of the Civil Rights Movement. It was the admission of James Meredith to Ole Miss that sparked in Gaines the need to return to Louisiana. After the publication of his first novel, Catherine Carmier in 1964, Gaines returned to Louisiana. He split his year six months in California, six months in Louisiana. From 1981 until 2004 when he retired, Ernest J. Gaines became Professor Gaines, the writer in residence at The University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He and his wife have a home on land once part of the plantation on which he lived as a child. He moved the plantation church on to his property. When he walks through the old cemetery he cannot find the grave of the aunt who raised him. What is it that drives Ernest J. Gaines to continue to set his work in Southwest Louisiana? In This Louisiana Thing That Drives Me: The Legacy of Ernest J. Gaines Gaines wrote: "I wanted to smell that Louisiana earth, feel that Louisiana sun, sit under the shade of one of those Louisiana oaks, search for pecans in that Louisiana grass in one of those Louisiana yards next to one of those Louisiana bayous, not far from a Louisiana river. I wanted to see on paper those Louisiana black children walking to school on cold days while yellow Louisiana busses passed them by. I wanted to see on paper those place parents going to work before the sun came up and coming back home to look after their children after the sun went down. I wanted to see on paper the true reason why those black fathers left home--not because they were trifling or shiftless--but because they were tired of putting up with certain conditions. I wanted to see on paper the small country churches (schools during the week), and I wanted to hear those simple religious songs, those simple prayers--that true devotion....And I wanted to hear that Louisiana Dialect--that combination of English, Creole, Cajun, Black. For me there's no more beautiful sound anywhere--unless, of course, you take exceptional pride in "proper" French or "proper" English. I wanted to read about the true relationship between whites and blacks--about people I had known." I love the novels of Ernest J. Gaines. He is among my favorite authors. Being a native born Southerner, growing up in Alabama, and white, Gaines opened a world to me to which I return again and again. I finally met Professor Gaines late in October, 2014. I consider him the most significant writer I have ever met. I also consider him to lack the recognition he deserves as an American writer. I am not alone in my belief. Madison Smart Bell reviewed A Gathering of Old Men upon its publication in 1983. He wrote, "I think he's oddly underrated, because he's one of those black writers who has been on the program for a long time." Bell went further to say this book was "the best-written novel on Southern race relations in over a decade." Returning to the thought that Gaines was underrated, Bell wrote, "At certain times he has been greatly celebrated, and his subsequent work has not gotten the attention it should have. But people like Ernest Gaines are a lot more important than anyone has fully recognized." This is my second reading of A Gathering of Old Men. I've also listened to the wonderful Audible edition of the novel. It fully captures the flavor of Gaines' use of multiple narrators. I have previously said I could not decide whether this novel or The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman was my favorite. After multiple reads, this novel takes the lead for me. I do chalk it up to the powerful multiple narratives of those old men who gathered on one day to throw off the oppression which they had endured thirty years or more. Gaines captures the decades of racism endured by the old men who share crop the Marshall plantation. Each tells the story behind the reason they are there this particular day. Listening to each of them is reminiscent of the chorus of a Greek tragedy. What drives each of the old men is a recognition they will no longer bow to the shame they and their ancestors have accepted until the unbelievable has happened. A black man has killed a white man. The dead man is Beau Boutan a Cajun farmer who has leased land worked by them as sharecroppers for generations. The mule and plow has been replaced by the tractor. The Boutans and their Cajun neighbors have inflicted rape, murder, and humiliation on the old men. Once word gets out that Beau is dead, all anticipate that the father, "Fix Boutan" will night ride into their quarters to dispense their own version of justice. All the men who gather are there to claim they each killed Boutan. The suspect in the killing is Matthu, the only black man to ever stand up to Fix Boutan and beat him in a fair fight. Candy Marshall the heiress to the Marshall plantation considers Matthu and all the men who arrive at his house to be "her people." Orphaned when her parents died in an automobile accident, Candy considers Matthu to be her Parrain or Grandfather. She engineers the scheme to gather the old men, all carrying shotguns with the same shot shells as Matthu's gun, to protect the man. What ensues is a taut novel as local Sheriff Mapes attempts to deal with all these old men and Candy Marshall, each who claim to have killed Beau Boutan. Nothing will break their story. As Mapes bullies each of the old men, each reveals the tragedies of their lives they will no longer endure. Gaines draws the story to a conclusion in a surprising denoument. Set in the 1970s, Gaines paints a vivid portrait of a South beginning to change, but not having changed enough. This is a novel of hope, found strength, and courage. Any reader will never forget A Gathering of Old Men.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    "But they comes a day, Sheriff, they comes a day when a man got to stand". And that's what this book is about.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Camie

    Wow, here's a simply written book that packs one walloping punch. Written in 1983 by Ernest J Gaines, this book which won high acclaim as the best novel about racial tension in that decade, still rings all too true today. Read ( slightly ahead) for On The Southern Literary Trail-Sept. 5 stars

  4. 4 out of 5

    Tom Mathews

    Books like this make me wish I believed in reincarnation so that could come back as a teacher and share this book with young impressionable minds. It is an amazing book, especially so because of the deft, multifaceted approach it takes in attacking the subject of racism. It tackles it directly. This is does by relating stories which, while fictional within these pages, were duplicated countless times over in real life. It tells of black men who volunteered to fight in World War I, who served wit Books like this make me wish I believed in reincarnation so that could come back as a teacher and share this book with young impressionable minds. It is an amazing book, especially so because of the deft, multifaceted approach it takes in attacking the subject of racism. It tackles it directly. This is does by relating stories which, while fictional within these pages, were duplicated countless times over in real life. It tells of black men who volunteered to fight in World War I, who served with distinction and who were decorated for their bravery. But when they returned home they were not given heroes’ welcomes but were feared and oppressed all the more because they had had the gall to think that they could get away with killing white men, even if they were Germans. It attacks its inhumanity by discussing the many little ways that an entire people can be thought of as something less than human, something unfit to breathe the same air and drink the same water as human beings. It attacks its impersonality. In almost every case, the old men justified their actions by relating events that occurred long in the past and had nothing to do with the victim of the crime at hand. Why did this happen to this man? Because he’s a white man and must share the guilt with all white men. Similarly, when Gil hears what happens to his brother, he immediately behaves as if his black teammate is in some way responsible. People are racist not because they find an individual offensive but because the faults they perceive in that person’s race are applied without exception to all of its members. It attacks the way racism plays with our fears. If you want to get a white man riled up, ask him how he’d feel if his wife or daughters were raped by one of them. If you see a group of them armed with shotguns, you immediately assume aggressive, rather than defensive intentions. While Gaines’ book can be treated as a treatise against racism, it is still an amazingly gentle book, full of characters you, for the most part, will become very attached to. It is also very much a book about loyalty and the courage to stand up for your friends, your beliefs, and yourself. My thanks to the folks at the On the Southern Literary Trail group, and especially to Lawyer Mike, its chief moderator, for allowing me the opportunity to read and discuss this and many other fine books with my friends. FYI: On a 5-point scale I assign stars based on my assessment of what the book needs in the way of improvements: *5 Stars – Nothing at all. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. …Actually, there is no point to go on. This is a five point book, my favorite so far this year. I really loved it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    Written in a simple and straightforward fashion, this book is anything but simple in its message and impact. The choice of having a different narrator for each chapter would not work well in just anyone’s hands, but Gaines is not just anyone, and he makes this device serve to reveal the truth of the situation without any bias or personal slant. How could anyone read this without feeling a great deal of pride for the subject old men? Each of them reaches into his deepest self and emerges as his ow Written in a simple and straightforward fashion, this book is anything but simple in its message and impact. The choice of having a different narrator for each chapter would not work well in just anyone’s hands, but Gaines is not just anyone, and he makes this device serve to reveal the truth of the situation without any bias or personal slant. How could anyone read this without feeling a great deal of pride for the subject old men? Each of them reaches into his deepest self and emerges as his own master, a role they have each been denied for most of their lives. When Charlie declares, “I am a man,” he seems to speak not just for himself, but for all of the old men. An excellent and important read.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Erwin

    Wow! What a powerful story! I often think that a five-star rating is just too many stars to choose from, but after reading this novel, five stars is just not enough. It was hard to put the book down, but necessary at times just to take a deep breath before continueing to read (and breathe). This is the second novel by Gaines I read (this month, ever). After reading A Lesson Before Dying I thought my expectations for this book might just be too high. Yet I was in for another big surprise. I alrea Wow! What a powerful story! I often think that a five-star rating is just too many stars to choose from, but after reading this novel, five stars is just not enough. It was hard to put the book down, but necessary at times just to take a deep breath before continueing to read (and breathe). This is the second novel by Gaines I read (this month, ever). After reading A Lesson Before Dying I thought my expectations for this book might just be too high. Yet I was in for another big surprise. I already ordered two more of his books/stories and after I finishing this review I will add Ernest J. Gaines to my list of favourite authors.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jayme

    I’m going to start off by stating that A Gathering Of Old Men is the best book that I have read so far in 2013. Though it is a short novel, barely 200 pages, it packs a powerful punch as it portrays the need of a few elderly black men to finally stand up to the injustices that they felt living with Jim Crow. The raw emotion and dignity that is felt as one by one they tell their stories about the horror of being black in the deep south during the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s is gut-wrenching. There are so I’m going to start off by stating that A Gathering Of Old Men is the best book that I have read so far in 2013. Though it is a short novel, barely 200 pages, it packs a powerful punch as it portrays the need of a few elderly black men to finally stand up to the injustices that they felt living with Jim Crow. The raw emotion and dignity that is felt as one by one they tell their stories about the horror of being black in the deep south during the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s is gut-wrenching. There are so many lessons in this book - letting go of fears, standing up to injustice, when does something wrong become something right? that I found myself pausing to rethink what I know about history especially racism in the late 1970's. Gaines does an amazing job capturing the essence of the people living in a small parish in Louisiana who will all make choices that will shape the direction of their lives. Highly recommend.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    I like how Gaines's books highlight the connections between people who are supposed to be unconnected, according to Southern traditions: redneck sheriffs and poor black men, white patriarchs and white rabble, light-skinned and dark-skinned black men, white women and black men, and, of course, blacks and whites generally. I understand that this book could be summed up in Big Charlie/Mr. Biggs's declaration "I am a man" - that is, this book is about emasculated, old black men taking a stand in the I like how Gaines's books highlight the connections between people who are supposed to be unconnected, according to Southern traditions: redneck sheriffs and poor black men, white patriarchs and white rabble, light-skinned and dark-skinned black men, white women and black men, and, of course, blacks and whites generally. I understand that this book could be summed up in Big Charlie/Mr. Biggs's declaration "I am a man" - that is, this book is about emasculated, old black men taking a stand in their twilight years to become men instead of "[Negro:] boys," as Big Charlie says. But I was frustrated that he effectively silenced every woman in the book after the first quarter or so of it, especially the black women. Was this really about "men business," as one of the main characters tells his wife in the opening chapters? I thought it was about something much bigger. And seeing's how women - black and white - ended up standing between a gun barrel and what they thought was right, I think their silencing at Gaines's hands was unnecessary and (I have to admit) a little insulting. But this is a primary tension of the legacies of the 1960s, isn't it? Especially where the civil rights movements and the women's movement intersect. Maybe "A Gathering of Old Men" should be considered a primary source now.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Pamela

    There comes a time in every man’s life when it’s time to stand and fight – though it might take him eighty-years. But once he decides, nothing is going to stand in his way. “I know I’m old, maybe even crazy, but I’m going anyhow.” And as kind attracts kind, courage comes in numbers. So if age were a headcount, the twenty or so gathering would number in the thousands. A Gathering of Old Men is truly a masterfully written, southern literary gem, rich in authenticity of voice, characters, nuances, There comes a time in every man’s life when it’s time to stand and fight – though it might take him eighty-years. But once he decides, nothing is going to stand in his way. “I know I’m old, maybe even crazy, but I’m going anyhow.” And as kind attracts kind, courage comes in numbers. So if age were a headcount, the twenty or so gathering would number in the thousands. A Gathering of Old Men is truly a masterfully written, southern literary gem, rich in authenticity of voice, characters, nuances, and flavor. Set in Louisiana during the seventies (a time of pivotal tensions - racial, cultural, and economic) the story unfolds like a sticky, festering, humid bayou day; years of injustice so oppressively thick it’s like a cauldron of sugarcane molasses ready to boil over. However, along with mounting tensions some good old southern humor springs forth too. “Southern women, black or white, can look at you . . . like they’re thinking that you or they, one of you, should not be standing on the same planet at the same time.” And as quoted by The New Yorker: Before it is over, everyone involved has been surprised by something . . . A Gathering of Old Men: Classic, atmospheric southern-literature of excellence.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ron Corio

    We read this book in an Advanced Reading class that I taught for the Spring session. This was the second or third time that I have used this book in a reading class, and with each read it reveals more to me and increases my appreciation of Ernest Gaines' writing. Gaines' device of using different narrators for each chapter gives this book a layered perspective of the events that happen over one day on a Louisiana sugar cane plantation in the nineteen seventies. Gaines knows his subject, Southwest We read this book in an Advanced Reading class that I taught for the Spring session. This was the second or third time that I have used this book in a reading class, and with each read it reveals more to me and increases my appreciation of Ernest Gaines' writing. Gaines' device of using different narrators for each chapter gives this book a layered perspective of the events that happen over one day on a Louisiana sugar cane plantation in the nineteen seventies. Gaines knows his subject, Southwestern Louisiana and its people, well. After a couple of chapters the students became interested in the story and often commented that they wanted to read beyond the assignment in order to find out what happens next.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Shaun

    I really enjoyed this story, which derives much of its power from its portrayal of racial tensions in the South a decade after the civil rights movement by exploring the topic from both sides, something I haven't noticed in similar books that I've read. The writing is strong. The characters are colorful and filled with life, and I was impressed by the dialogue, which is something that can make or break a book for me. I also didn't mind the multiple POV characters (each chapter is told by a differe I really enjoyed this story, which derives much of its power from its portrayal of racial tensions in the South a decade after the civil rights movement by exploring the topic from both sides, something I haven't noticed in similar books that I've read. The writing is strong. The characters are colorful and filled with life, and I was impressed by the dialogue, which is something that can make or break a book for me. I also didn't mind the multiple POV characters (each chapter is told by a different character who is usually (not always) a passive observer in that scene). I'm not sure that so many viewpoints were necessary and will agree with other reviewers who have pointed out that many of the voices sounded identical. I occasionally found myself flipping back to the beginning of a chapter because I had forgotten the POV I was reading. Also several of the POV characters are secondary characters, so it seems more gimmicky than a tool to reveal something worthwhile through POV. Overall, this had many things I appreciate in a book: good writing, convincing and interesting characters, and a deep and meaningful theme that prompts me to see an issue in a new or slightly different light. Would recommend this to anyone who appreciates books that explore racial tensions in a poignant yet entertaining way.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mommalibrarian

    I have a love/hate reaction to this story. It is set in the late 70s in that far south part of Louisiana where sugar cane grows on the dry spots and Cajuns fish in all the bayous. There is a murder and tension builds between the whites and the blacks. The language is realistic and not politically correct. I think the same as one of the characters, "Won't it ever stop?" p. 122 I am pulling for the South to look its best. I tell myself this book would have made sense if it were set in the 40s but I have a love/hate reaction to this story. It is set in the late 70s in that far south part of Louisiana where sugar cane grows on the dry spots and Cajuns fish in all the bayous. There is a murder and tension builds between the whites and the blacks. The language is realistic and not politically correct. I think the same as one of the characters, "Won't it ever stop?" p. 122 I am pulling for the South to look its best. I tell myself this book would have made sense if it were set in the 40s but surely these things did not go on in the 70s. Even as I think this I read on; one of the women says "And let's don't be getting off into that thirty-five, forty, fifty year ago stuff, either. Things ain't changed that much round here. In them demonstrations somebody was always coming up missing. So let's don't be putting it all on no thirty-five, forty, fifty years ago like everything is so nicety-nice now." p.108 I think this is a truthful book and that makes me sad and I want to point to the racism in other parts of the country and the world. Those places will have to get there own authors to write embarrassing truths. In the end, this author tells a satisfying story and I am not sorry I read it.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Linda Lipko

    Destined to be one of my top reads for 2012, this is a powerful tale of the deep south and the terrible bigotry that existed in the 1970's. When a son of the local, powerful white racist is killed, it takes a strong white woman to gather the old black men to rally. When each man arrives on the porch, gun in hand, they await the sheriff and the local near do wells who will seek revenge. When the sheriff demands to know who is to blame, each and every older gentleman claims he was the culprit. Each ch Destined to be one of my top reads for 2012, this is a powerful tale of the deep south and the terrible bigotry that existed in the 1970's. When a son of the local, powerful white racist is killed, it takes a strong white woman to gather the old black men to rally. When each man arrives on the porch, gun in hand, they await the sheriff and the local near do wells who will seek revenge. When the sheriff demands to know who is to blame, each and every older gentleman claims he was the culprit. Each chapter, excellently, compellingly written from the perspective of each man, tells a tale of subjugation at the hands of the white racists and the need to finally take a stand against intolerance and evil.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Laura K

    Excellent! Powerful, thought-provoking book by a very talented writer. I am looking forward to reading his other works.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sandy

    Ernest J. Gaines's novel A Gathering of Old Men is set on a sugarcane plantation in Louisiana in the 1970s. There, one white woman and about 18 armed, old black men go nose-to-nose with the sheriff and his inept deputy over the death of a Cajun farmer. Each of the 18 men and say he did it, and so does the woman, but the sheriff believes he knows who is responsible. They engage in a day-long stand-off while Sheriff Mapes waits for the lynch mob he believes will come to vindicate the death of the Ernest J. Gaines's novel A Gathering of Old Men is set on a sugarcane plantation in Louisiana in the 1970s. There, one white woman and about 18 armed, old black men go nose-to-nose with the sheriff and his inept deputy over the death of a Cajun farmer. Each of the 18 men and say he did it, and so does the woman, but the sheriff believes he knows who is responsible. They engage in a day-long stand-off while Sheriff Mapes waits for the lynch mob he believes will come to vindicate the death of the Cajun. The black men unite in what they believe is their last stand against bigotry and its attendant physical and psychological abuses. As the hours tick by, though, these men as well as the would-be lynch mob learn--reluctantly and with a considerable fight--that times have changed, that being a man requires something other than beating down someone else. Their lives need not be defined by the enemies they imagine. Every time I read one of Gaines's books, I think, "This is the best one yet." So, today, this is the best one yet.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

    I decided against an afternoon at a fantastic art museum in favor of finishing this book! Yes, it was that compelling. In fact, as I got closer and closer to the end, I had to set it down time after time, as I couldn't handle the suspense--but then I had to pick it up again in 30 sec or so, because I just HAD to know what happened. How did I not know about this author until now?? This book was published in 1983, at a time when I didn't read fiction for almost 2 decades. I will now read anything I decided against an afternoon at a fantastic art museum in favor of finishing this book! Yes, it was that compelling. In fact, as I got closer and closer to the end, I had to set it down time after time, as I couldn't handle the suspense--but then I had to pick it up again in 30 sec or so, because I just HAD to know what happened. How did I not know about this author until now?? This book was published in 1983, at a time when I didn't read fiction for almost 2 decades. I will now read anything else of his I can get my hands on.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Carol E.

    A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest Gaines is an excellent book. It takes place in Louisiana. A Cajun man is shot and killed in the front yard of a black person's home. The white sheriff needs to determine who killed the guy.. but all the Old Men in the area gather around, and each claims to have done it. There is also a feisty, young, white woman who claims she did it. The sheriff believes he knows who did it but must sift through all the stories before he can act. Gradually the reader learns more A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest Gaines is an excellent book. It takes place in Louisiana. A Cajun man is shot and killed in the front yard of a black person's home. The white sheriff needs to determine who killed the guy.. but all the Old Men in the area gather around, and each claims to have done it. There is also a feisty, young, white woman who claims she did it. The sheriff believes he knows who did it but must sift through all the stories before he can act. Gradually the reader learns more about the past hurts and cruelties suffered by the Old Men and also learns about the views of the family of the deceased. Both groups are changing as laws and mores of the society change. Change, as we all know, often comes with resistance and angst. Sometimes it happens within a person and surprises the person with new-found strength. It also challenges long-held beliefs that a person may have thought were good and well-intentioned but are revealed to be oppressive. Well-intentioned people: take note. A Gathering of Old Men subtly and beautifully reveals many community and individual dynamics and gives the reader much to ponder. This is a great read; I give it 5 out of 5 stars.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Brian Bess

    Ernest J. Gaines uses the device of multiple narrators most famously used by William Faulkner in As I Lay Dying to tell a story largely through the points of view of a segment of the southern population that Faulkner depicted only from the distant vantage point of the old white aristocracy—impoverished African Americans sharecropping white landowners’ plantations, in this case the Louisiana bayou country in the 1970’s. The setting is further south than Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County and the tim Ernest J. Gaines uses the device of multiple narrators most famously used by William Faulkner in As I Lay Dying to tell a story largely through the points of view of a segment of the southern population that Faulkner depicted only from the distant vantage point of the old white aristocracy—impoverished African Americans sharecropping white landowners’ plantations, in this case the Louisiana bayou country in the 1970’s. The setting is further south than Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County and the time is a half century or more later, but the living conditions are not radically different. A black man has killed a white landowner, supposedly in self-defense, but the whole truth and nothing but the truth is known by no one, allowing racial tensions to escalate into almost certain violence. Candy, the heir to the landowner on whose property the incident occurred, is determined to do whatever is necessary to protect the old servant Matthu, whom she loves as a surrogate father, that the evidence incriminates. This drastic action entails spreading the word for all the old African American men in the area to congregate at the scene of the crime with shotguns filled with blank shells; all of them confess to the killing. A unified field of old men with guns, all confessing the murder, will most certainly challenge the orderly execution of the sheriff’s duty, as they take a stand against all the wrongs they have suffered for decades. I must confess that I felt compelled to suspend disbelief that this many men could form a brave, unified front as a call to action without one voice of dissent other than the old preacher, whom one would expect to advocate non-violence. Casting that aside, this is a pressure cooker situation where parties on all sides react and overreact and fall at various points on the spectrum between pacifism and militant action. The most extreme tendencies of the white racist vigilantes are expressed by Luke Will, a redneck ripe for recruitment in Bull Conner’s riot control police force and on the side of the black men by the Black Panther-like Johnny Paul. A dramatic crisis of this magnitude inevitably elicits epiphanies from almost everyone that is affected by it and forces them to question assumptions held for a lifetime. In general, Gaines is successful in depicting a variety of points of view from a wide range of characters, black and white, and the dialogue feels accurate with just a few exceptions where it sounds like it was lifted from a weekly TV drama. Not everyone escapes caricature but Gaines’ confidence that he is telling a story that is worth telling propels the story and supplies accelerating momentum, largely transcending the weaknesses. I don’t know enough detail about race relations in the bayou country at that time but if Gaines’ novel is realistic, then it successfully describes a period after the civil rights movement of the sixties when regressive behavior that attempted to turn the clock back no longer happened so easily.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Susan Emmet

    I used to love teaching Ernest Gaines' short stories with freshmen and seniors years ago. This book popped out at me at the library. Cover art is remarkable. The novel's key characters on the cover. Beautiful. The use of multiple narrators gives the story its fierce solidity. Set in sugarcane Louisiana in the 1970s, years of simmering tensions between black and white, man and woman, man and man, over the murder of a horrific Cajun white man (Beau Boutan), supposedly committed by Mathu, black father I used to love teaching Ernest Gaines' short stories with freshmen and seniors years ago. This book popped out at me at the library. Cover art is remarkable. The novel's key characters on the cover. Beautiful. The use of multiple narrators gives the story its fierce solidity. Set in sugarcane Louisiana in the 1970s, years of simmering tensions between black and white, man and woman, man and man, over the murder of a horrific Cajun white man (Beau Boutan), supposedly committed by Mathu, black father-figure to white woman Candy, finds a host of elderly black men standing tall, claiming (along with Candy) that each and all had committed murder... it's simply amazing. They stand together to finally become men instead of "niggers." The novel ends on a hopeful note. Justice is served and hope - albeit meager - remains. Just a great older book whose time ain't gone.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    I loved this book! It’s like "The Magnificent Seven" transformed into The Geriatric Eighteen. It is both comedic and tragic, and I believe it deserves its status as a classic of recent American literature. This is one of those books that made me so excited by reading it. It’s an ineffable feeling that hits you when you know you have come upon something really good. Rating: 4.5/5

  21. 4 out of 5

    MB

    Have read several of Ernest Gaines books - simple prose for complicated social situations.

  22. 4 out of 5

    John

    Scar on the Face of America I would like to see these statues, both Union and Confederate, taken down and their molten bronzes poured on the earth to spread as a scar. A reminder of the stain which the CW was, and still is. Perhaps a plaque, " In remembrance of the suffering before, during, and after the Civil War. This would be symbolic of the blood lost. Not only on the battlefield but the whipping post and the birth bed of a newly born mulatto. I'm not ready to buy into this "court historian" Scar on the Face of America I would like to see these statues, both Union and Confederate, taken down and their molten bronzes poured on the earth to spread as a scar. A reminder of the stain which the CW was, and still is. Perhaps a plaque, " In remembrance of the suffering before, during, and after the Civil War. This would be symbolic of the blood lost. Not only on the battlefield but the whipping post and the birth bed of a newly born mulatto. I'm not ready to buy into this "court historian" line of thinking. The Southern apologists have been pushing their own brand of propaganda for a long time. When one considers the Fugitive Slave Act, and the interference into the sovereignty of the Free States, the idea of Confederate State's rights being central to the CW was only a subterfuge. Something to feed the "Don't Tread on Me" crowd. Whichever way one can make the statistics play out, slavery was still the economic model of the South. Currently the Nazis, White Supremacists, and the KKK have so much invested in being the victim they can't give it up. The Good Ole Boys only cared for the blacks as a source of income. They had to be superior to somebody. This is what I believe.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Rhonda Browning

    Ernest J. Gaines’s A Gathering of Old Men relates the story of a white Cajun murdered by a black man in the Louisiana bayou during the late 1970’s. The entire story is narrated through the first-person point of view of fifteen different characters, each with his own chapter, but some narrators sharing their viewpoint in more than one chapter. This first person point of view allows readers to develop some intimacy with each of these narrators, lending a sense of credibility to the story. I find i Ernest J. Gaines’s A Gathering of Old Men relates the story of a white Cajun murdered by a black man in the Louisiana bayou during the late 1970’s. The entire story is narrated through the first-person point of view of fifteen different characters, each with his own chapter, but some narrators sharing their viewpoint in more than one chapter. This first person point of view allows readers to develop some intimacy with each of these narrators, lending a sense of credibility to the story. I find it interesting, however, that none of the main characters (Beau Boutan, Candy Marshall, Mathu, Sheriff Mapes, and Charlie Biggs) have a point of view chapter. Perhaps Gaines wanted to give the impression of misjudgment—outsiders opining on a situation about which they understand little or none of the truth. Racism is the main theme of this story, evidenced even within the oppressed blacks of Marshall Quarters. This pointed distinction within the black race again reveals misjudgment, this time based on skin color alone. Gaines use of multiple narrators is particularly effective in this sense, as it allows us to see each of these old men just as they see each other, and it also reveals their own complexities as we see what it is they find important enough to relate (such as the subtleties of skin shade). In addition to the prevalent theme of racism, Gaines cleverly touches upon other topics, such as sexism, ageism, and classism. Here again, the viewpoints of multiple narrators help the reader to see different sides to the same story, to walk in the shoes of more than one character, and thus better understand the complexity of the tension that has built throughout the narrative. As a lover of regional dialect and its conveyance from oral speech patterns into written word, I was particularly pleased not only with the way Gaines wrote dialogue, but also with the way the writing in each chapter maintained each narrator’s voice. Even though Gaines uses the Cajun-Creole-French-Louisiana regional dialect with a heavy hand, he allows his narrators to speak with full knowledge of their own experience. They never appear ignorant because of their colloquial voice patterns, just different. This is a subtle reminder to the reader not to pass judgment on these characters based on their speech patterns, but to listen to what they are saying beyond their mispronunciations. A Gathering of Old Men does an excellent job of relating the intricacies and complications of not only culture clashes, but of personality clashes in the deep South. He reminds readers of the need for acceptance—and if not acceptance, then tolerance and understanding—through fiction, in essence, through storytelling, by using the authentic voices of a wide variety of characters. Recommended!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    (4.5 stars.) A very powerful book, making excellent use of the choral narration whereby each chapter is told by a different character. As a critic noted (in French paper l'Express), it's not just a great novel of the American South, it is one that does not indulge in nostalgia but rather looks at it as a place in transition. What gives added depth to the book is, half-way through the story, the inclusion of a white point-of-view with somewhat shifts our empathy (gained for the old African-America (4.5 stars.) A very powerful book, making excellent use of the choral narration whereby each chapter is told by a different character. As a critic noted (in French paper l'Express), it's not just a great novel of the American South, it is one that does not indulge in nostalgia but rather looks at it as a place in transition. What gives added depth to the book is, half-way through the story, the inclusion of a white point-of-view with somewhat shifts our empathy (gained for the old African-American men waiting at Mathu's house) to the character of Gil, the son of the old white monster who used to take justice in his own hands--but a son who has learned to live and respect African-Americans. Gil's dilemma provides a very good shift in terms of voice as well as perspective. But I believe it could have been developed to create an ending that might have delivered more than the current one. Indeed, the ending is slightly disappointing, and not just because the perspective opened by Gil and his father (and their conflict) is not developed more. It is also because, even though most of the characters have changed (and for the better), the young white guys who wanted to take justice into their own hands still had their way and killed the African-American killer who had basically been defending himself when killing Beau. Even though the leader of the lynch mob gets killed in the action as well, it does not make for a very optimistic ending. Or, should we say, it shows a transitional situation, in which a number of the characters have evolved but not all, and there is still room for improvement. That said, the writing is first-rate and keeps the reader on edge from start to finish. It results from the bold choice of telling a story with not much "back story" narrated, while all characters use past events and habits as their main points of reference. In other words, by multiplying the points of view, Gains is able to give a depth to the past without indulging in "back-story telling". This works well for the present story as well: the slow gathering of information (which the reader picks up from the various voices) in the first chapters is amazing.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Arlene

    This is a tale of a dead white men in 1970s Louisiana on a sugarcane plantation and all the black men in the quarter who decided that today, today they were going to stick together for this cause. It's a bit more than that, but that is the set up for this simply written book. I enjoyed the social commentary of the book and the depth of the characters, but to be honest that's about it. I didn't particularly like the language, some of it was very repetitive and I'm sure the reason for it was some This is a tale of a dead white men in 1970s Louisiana on a sugarcane plantation and all the black men in the quarter who decided that today, today they were going to stick together for this cause. It's a bit more than that, but that is the set up for this simply written book. I enjoyed the social commentary of the book and the depth of the characters, but to be honest that's about it. I didn't particularly like the language, some of it was very repetitive and I'm sure the reason for it was something that I just didn't understand. There were moments when I was 1/2 way through it and wanted to stop reading it. It's not a bad book by any means, just kind of boring.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Dustincecil

    I loved the format. Almost like a slide show with quick shots of the situation from each character. This was also a good reminder that it is possible to read in color ( not just because of the race stuff)- Gaines uses colors as adjectives in a very precise and informative way that perfectly compliments the mood. This would have been more stars for me, but I have a zero-tolerance policy for anything with sports or sports stars- really unnecessary (imo) to this story. The end was also too abrupt. I I loved the format. Almost like a slide show with quick shots of the situation from each character. This was also a good reminder that it is possible to read in color ( not just because of the race stuff)- Gaines uses colors as adjectives in a very precise and informative way that perfectly compliments the mood. This would have been more stars for me, but I have a zero-tolerance policy for anything with sports or sports stars- really unnecessary (imo) to this story. The end was also too abrupt. I did tear up a couple of times early on, but by the end, this started to feel like a string of cliches. I'd recommend it to others though, for sure. I will def. read more of Gaines.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Andie

    When the meanest white cracker in the Parish is shot dead on a sugar plantation, the sheriff is summoned. He finds a white woman and eighteen old black men with shotguns. The sheriff thinks he knows who shot the man, but each old man insists that he did it, despite threats and physical abuse, and each promise to incite a riot at the courthouse if the sheriff arrests him. Meanwhile, the dead man's family is gathering their supporters to form a lynch mob to take care of the problem themselves. As th When the meanest white cracker in the Parish is shot dead on a sugar plantation, the sheriff is summoned. He finds a white woman and eighteen old black men with shotguns. The sheriff thinks he knows who shot the man, but each old man insists that he did it, despite threats and physical abuse, and each promise to incite a riot at the courthouse if the sheriff arrests him. Meanwhile, the dead man's family is gathering their supporters to form a lynch mob to take care of the problem themselves. As the day goes on, each one of the old men learns to stand up fr themselves as men and not as second class citizens. This is an incredibly moving book

  28. 5 out of 5

    Carol Rizzardi

    Ernest Gaines is among the most talent American authors living today. Calling upon his childhood growing up in the Louisiana sugar cane fields, Gaines takes us into the world of rural blacks in the deep south. In A Gathering of Old Men, Gaines presents a kaleidoscope of the 20th century black experience through the 1970s. It is powerful. It is raw. It is moving. For more insight into Gaines and his writing, look for an interview with him on YouTube during which he explains what he learned from wr Ernest Gaines is among the most talent American authors living today. Calling upon his childhood growing up in the Louisiana sugar cane fields, Gaines takes us into the world of rural blacks in the deep south. In A Gathering of Old Men, Gaines presents a kaleidoscope of the 20th century black experience through the 1970s. It is powerful. It is raw. It is moving. For more insight into Gaines and his writing, look for an interview with him on YouTube during which he explains what he learned from writers like Hemingway and what these classic writers have to say to young African-Americans.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Clarence Reed

    ReedIII Quick Review: Excellent novel about racial tension showing mostly black points of reference about growing up through the end of Jim Crow laws. With an engaging current story line plus historic character reflection the novel shows racism personally and systemic. The character dialogue is perfect for the geography.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    This novel reads like a play and I could easily see it adapted for the stage.

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