Unlike The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman with its epic sweep, A Gathering of Old Men limits its primary action to a single day and to locales in and around the plantation quarters near Bayonne. It is only in Lou Dimes’s last narrative, a sort of epilogue, that the reader is carried past the climactic day on which a group of old black men gather to protect their friend, Mathu. They assume that Mathu has killed Beau, a white farmer and son of a powerful Cajun patriarch, Fix Bouton.
The old men congregate at Mathu’s house, each carrying a shotgun and confessing to the crime. They have an ally in a young white woman, Candy, who has prompted the gathering. She also claims to have shot Beau, fearing that Beau’s killer, once identified, will face brutal retribution. The men hold to their charade, braving the abuse of Sheriff Mapes and frustrating all of his attempts to intimidate them. Although he believes that only Mathu is capable of the act, Mapes slowly gains grudging respect for the men because they have dared to defy him.
Candy, too, must face the implications of the men’s stand. As her friend Lou Dimes tells her, Mathu is now free of her, free of her protection, which, however well intentioned, in its way has been as demeaning for black people as the brutal intimidation of men such as Mapes and Beau. The black men are finally able to stand alone, with dignity and pride, beholden to nobody.
(The entire section is 456 words.)