“A Gathering Of Old Men” Is Grand Narrative About Racism In Sugar Cane Fields Of Louisiana


I ran across this Ernest Gaines’ work in a book catalog several months ago.   The synopsis seemed appealing but it was not until opening the first pages of A Gathering Of Old Men that I really became aware of the magnificent style of his writing.  While plotting and storytelling obviously rank high for any reader, it always comes down to the ability of an author to write in a way that transports a person almost into the pages.  That is the type of writing Gaines achieves in this short and most compelling read published in 1983.

The story revolves around the death of a Cajun farmer at the hands of a black man.  But as the plot moves along the various personal stories allow for deeper insight into the racial violence and turmoil which has racked the region.  Before long the characters are men that become far more understood.

History allows us to see that racism has long been a stain on the nation.  Our original sin was slavery which germinated from racism.  The story which Gaines has written forces the readers to know that in spite of progress the roots of the problem are still firmly planted in the soil of the nation.  But as he shows in a touching and yet stern fashion the elderly black men of one locale collectively knew what had to be done—not only for the situation at hand but for their own inner beings.

As I read the book–in about three hours–my thoughts were often on the works of Mark Twain.  He was able to create and imitate various dialects for his large cast of charterers.  Gaines has done the same for his Southern women, Cajuns, poor whites, and elderly black men of various backgrounds.   What is disarming is the book works so well that it seems it might be easy to craft such a tale.  But there lies the trick of a remarkable story teller.  Making it look easy is proof that the one with a name on the cover is mighty good at their profession.

It should be noted that Gaines is also the author of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.

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