Gaines, Ernest J. (Vol. 18)
Gaines, Ernest J. 1933–
Gaines is a black American novelist and short story writer. His fiction deals with the victimization of poor, uneducated blacks, often in settings drawn from Gaines's native southern Louisiana. Character portrayal in Gaines's work is realistic and convincing and has been compared to that of Faulkner. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman is his best known work. (See also CLC, Vols. 3, 11, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)
Winifred L. Stoelting
Ernest Gaines, contemporary novelist and short story writer, creates [his own world], recognizable as part of his earlier experience on a Southern, white-owned plantation and peopled by characters possessing a strength and dignity cognizant of soul—that inner revelatory understanding growing out of black experience…. [A] code of independence is central to the world of his novels. (p. 340)
[In Catherine Carmier (1964) and Of Love and Dust (1967)] the new world of expanding human relationships erodes the old world of love for the land and the acceptance of social and economic stratification. The characters caught up in this movement must make choices. Gaines concerns himself more with how they handle their decisions than with the rightness of their decisions—more often than not predetermined by social changes over which the single individual has little control. In the face of polarization, Gaines's characters demonstrate a human dignity and pride.
In Catherine Carmier, Gaines relates a triangle of lovers reflecting the historical degradation of a system based on color but, at the same time, transcending it in his emphasis on the dignity of the individual. (p. 341)
All four characters [in Catherine Carmier] are proud, dignified individuals, even in times of defeat. Each is determined to maintain his code of conduct among debasing and confusing forces. Each realizes he...
(The entire section is 481 words.)
Jerry H. Bryant
With the appearance of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, eight years after the publication of his first story, Gaines makes the leap from promising competence to mature achievement. It is, in my opinion, one of the finest novels written since World War II in America and a distinguished contribution to our national literature. Its publication calls for a critical interpretation and assessment of all of Gaines's work….
I can think of no other contemporary American novelist whose work has produced in me anything like the sense of depth, the sense of humanity and compassion, and the sense of honesty that I find in Gaines's fiction. It contains the austere dignity and simplicity of ancient epic, a concern with man's most powerful emotions and the actions that arise from those emotions, and an artistic intuition that carefully keeps such passions and behavior under fictive control. Gaines may be one of our most naturally gifted story-tellers….
The Gaines of Catherine Carmier and Of Love and Dust is relatively young and inexperienced, and he succumbs to the power and the achievement of Hemingway and Faulkner. From Hemingway, he borrows the familiar clipped, journalistic sentence structure, understatement and repetition, and simple, concrete diction. (p. 106)
Because neither Gaines's talent nor his vision harmonizes with those of Hemingway, it is no wonder that he has...
(The entire section is 2283 words.)
Addison Gayle, Jr.
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman is history rewritten and sifted through the mind of a talented novelist. It has been likened to Faulkner's novel, The Sound and the Fury—though such comparison has relevance only in terms of themes. The themes of guilt and redemption, enmity and hatred, of men trapped in old patterns are as much a part of this novel as they are of that of the white Southerner. To these themes, however, Gaines has brought a black sensibility, which transforms them and makes them less important than his major character. Faulkner knew that such themes were an intricate part of the dust and blood of the South and thus attributed great importance to them. Gaines, on the other hand, sees such themes as only part of the historical record; he deems people more important in the over-all historical picture. To endure in Faulkner's universe is to accept predominance of guilt and redemption and, thus, to accept, too, the inevitability of fate. To endure in Gaines's universe is to minimize such themes, concentrate upon people, and, thus, to struggle endlessly against fate.
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman is about struggle, fate, and people. To travel with Miss Pittman from adolescence to old age is to embark upon a historic journey, one staked out in the format of the novel. Divided into four books—"The War Years," "Reconstruction," "The Plantation," and "The Quarters"—Miss Pittman's life is...
(The entire section is 623 words.)