Inner and Outer Images in A Gathering of Old Men
In the novel A Gathering of Old Men, Ernest J. Gaines, portrays the
Novel through the eyes of individual narrators involved on the events of the day. The novel focuses on a group of cowardly black men who finally stop running and stand up for themselves and years of suffering. There is great difference between the narration of the black and white people. The black men grow through the novel and become individuals and depict their inner pain. The Cajuns do not see nor realize the years of pain and guilt that the black men have carried with them. The story illustrates two worlds, the inner world is the life in Marshall Quarters, the old black men and their family; the outer world being everything outside the Quarters, Fix, the Cajuns, and even the white people.
The blacks have an inner family that has experienced similar hardships and treats each other in ways that are considered offensive by those members of the outside world. One of the most prominent examples is his use of the Christian names, given by their ancestors slave owners; and their nicknames. Before each black person narrates they are introduced, “Grant Bello aka Cherry” (41). Throughout the entire novel all black people have a nickname in which they only allow the “inner world” to refer to them. When Yank is confessing the crime of killing Beau Griffin begins to take down the name “Yank. Y-a-n-” and is corrected “Sylvester J. Battly . Be sure to spell Sylvester and Battly right, if you can” (99). The name he wants printed to the outside world is his real name, not the silly nickname his inner ring of friends refer to him as. These nicknames they find harmless by their peers, are offensive by others. When Charlie comes back, now a man, he wants “to have a handle, too-like Mister. Mr. Biggs” (187). This demonstrates the two distinct worlds of the blacks and whites. The nicknames are offensive if spoken by those outside their world.
There are continuous examples through the novel that illustrate the presence and difference in the two worlds. Each of the old men tells a story of pain due to oppression by the white man. These stories automatically separate Mapes, Fix, or even Candy from the world and lives of the men. The common thread that unites these men is their story. Only on this day do they become individuals versus a group, a world with a common thread. They became individuals by telling their story that also depicted the difference in worlds. When Johnny Paul tells his story of the palm-of-Christians he tells Mapes, the outer world, “No, Sheriff, you don’t see. You do not even know what I don’t see” (89). The black men have different experiences and histories that separate them from the outside world. This is constant though the stories. To the Cajuns, the graveyard is more land, but to the blacks it’s their ancestors and identity. Without the graveyard, they will not be remembered. Each of the stories is a division between the two worlds. When Charlie returns to his world to confess the he killed Beau, he becomes a man. And says “I want the world to know I’m a man” (187). By admitting his actions and standing up for himself he is proud. Although his action is murder, he still believes the world needs to see him as a man. In the end of the novel Mathu makes the decision to ride with Clatoo and the others that greatly symbolizes the two worlds. The inner world sticks together, especially after they have found their identities.
Many of the differences of the two worlds are portrayed by symbols or symbolic statements. Candy refers to the old black men as her people, “I will protect my people” (19). She is not a part of that inner world, possibly apart of Mathu’s world, but not the inner world in general. By calling them her people, she claims ownership, which is far in the past. She is white and has not been oppressed by the white men for years. Luke Will and Charlie Biggs represent the extremes of the two worlds. They are the members that take the most outrageous action; therefore, they stand of the symbols that represent the prevention of change and change. They are of two different worlds, and yearns for two different goals. Their speech is also a symbol of the division. When the black men narrate they speak with bad English, for example, Chimley says “Now, I ain’t even stepped in the house ‘fore that old woman start fussing at me” (32). When narration is from Miss Merle or Lou Dimes the slang is not portrayed. This proves the extent of the division, it is even visible in their speech. The story is set in the 1970’s; however, while reading the novel it did not appear as though the civil right’s movement had even taken place. This was true only in the inner world, Marshall Quarters, not the outer world where Gil and Cal, “Salt and Pepper”, were playing football together. It also portrayed how Marshall Quarters is stuck in the past.
Throughout the novel, the distinction of the two worlds become consistently more evident. The entire novel is based on these inner and outer worlds that separate the blacks and whites. These men were not violent, but on this day, they did not to return home without a battle. They were standing up for brothers and sisters, children, and their ancestors who had dealt with years of pain, oppression, and disgrace. On this day they were all men, men who were proud.