A Gathering of Old Men

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Theme of Racial Tension in A Gathering of Old Men A Gathering of Old Men begins with a child narrator who relates the report that there has been a shooting on a Louisiana plantation, and a white, Cajun farmer, Beau Boutan, is dead. He has been killed in the yard of an old, black worker, Mathu. Because of the conflict between Cajuns and blacks in South Louisiana, the tension in the situation and the fear of the black people is immediately felt. The Cajuns were the greatest competitor of the black people in Louisiana, but the Cajuns had the advantage of race in a segregated society. The author, Ernest J. Gaines, uses fifteen narrators (white, black, young, and old) to deal with the changing relations between the Cajuns and the blacks in Louisiana in the late 1970’s. As each narrator picks up the story, we see the tensions between the past and the present, the conflict between the whites and blacks, and most important, the conflict and tension between each old black man and his former, younger self as he tries to deal with why he has waited so long to face the problem. Mapes, the white sheriff who traditionally dealt with the black people by the use of intimidation and force, finds himself in the frustrating situation of having to deal with a group of old black men, each carrying a shotgun and each claiming that he shot Beau Boutan. In addition, Candy Marshall, the young white woman whose family owned the plantation, claims that she did it. There seems to be only one real suspect, Mathu, the old black man whom Candy is determined to protect whether he wants or needs her protection or not. All of the old men have a motive to kill Beau, but only Mathu is perceived as being man enough to have done it; he is the only one who had ever “stood up” to a white man before. As each man tells why he shot Beau, neither the reader nor the sheriff regards him as a real
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