Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
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.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
The story of A Gathering of Old Men is told by fifteen narrators. Violence is part of the story they tell. The book, however, is also a story of the sometimes painful and uncertain processes of change and growth.
Beau Boutan, a brutal Cajun farmer, has been shot and killed. His body lies in the yard of Mathu, and, because old Mathu is known as the only black man in the area who has ever stood up to the whites, most people will surely conclude that he is the killer. He faces both the retribution of the law and the revenge of the Boutan family. Fix Boutan, the patriarch of the family, has lived by a harsh, simple, and brutally racist code. The death of his son at the hands of a black man will certainly lead him to demand more than an eye for an eye.
Candy Marshall, who was half reared by Mathu, is determined to protect him. She is prepared to say that she, a white woman from a plantation-owning family, killed Beau—and she has a plan.
At Candy’s urging, the old men of the plantation will gather at Mathu’s. Each will carry a shotgun and shells like those that killed Beau. Each will have recently fired the shotgun. And each, like Candy, will claim to be Beau’s killer.
As the men move toward Mathu’s, singly, in pairs, eventually as a group, they begin to feel a sense of joyful resolution. All of their lives, they have given in. They have lived in fear of the whites. Now they have been granted an...
(The entire section is 769 words.)
Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
A Gathering of Old Men is written in the first person and is narrated by fifteen separate voices. The book tells the story of one day, one killing, and the coming-of-age of a community in Louisiana in the 1970’s. Ernest Gaines, a master of first-person storytelling, creates in this work a continuous narrative seen from many very different points of view.
At the opening of the novel, a Cajun boss, Beau Boutan, has been murdered in the Quarters, a section of an old Louisiana plantation. Suspicion naturally falls on Mathu, an elderly African American man on whose doorstep the body lies. Candy Marshall, the young white woman who owns the plantation, sends word to all the black families in the area to bring the elderly black men of the community to Mathu’s home. At the same time, she declares that she herself shot Boutan. There is fear that retaliation for the killing will come either from the legitimate authority, Sheriff Mapes, or more dangerously from Fix Boutan, who is the elderly head of Beau’s Cajun family, which is notorious for vigilantism.
About eighteen old men gather at Mathu’s house, each carrying a twelve-gauge shotgun that has been discharged and contains a number-five shell, thereby replicating the murder weapon. This is done at Candy Marshall’s command, for Candy has taken on the role of protector. It turns out that she gets more than she bargained for.
Through the various narrative voices, readers...
(The entire section is 860 words.)
A Gathering of Old Men is a novel with a large historical sweep. Like the aged main character of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, the twenty old men in A Gathering of Old Men, who are in their seventies and eighties, carry history in their first-person memories. The men gather to provide protection to a man they all admire, Mathu, by each claiming to have murdered a Cajun they suspect was killed by Mathu. Mathu in turn is shielding another man, Big Charlie, who finally admits the murder, earning the respect of Mathu and the others. All are afraid not only of the justice system, but of the Cajun backlash of the murder victim's extended family.
Law and society both evolve in this novel, as blacks, whites, and Cajuns cheer the first black and white running backs at Louisiana State University, and these old men, long accustomed to swallowing their dignity to buy their survival, rise to claim that lost pride. Like the ending of apartheid in South Africa, the novel shows a triumph of former victims who gain what they had formerly lost, as their courage sweetens the dying embers of their lives, and the former victimizers, white and Cajun, learn a higher standard of justice than retribution.
(The entire section is 210 words.)
The first narrator in A Gathering of Old Men is a black boy, Snookum. He says that Candy has instructed him to run and tell some of the local people to gather at Mathu's house. Snookum sees Beau lying in the yard, and Mathu tells him to go away. Snookum runs off on his errand.
At Marshall House, Jack Marshall is asleep and drunk on the porch, and his wife Bea is in the pasture. When Snookum arrives with his message, Janey, the housekeeper, calls Lou Dimes and Miss Merle. When Miss Merle arrives, Janey tells her there has been a killing. Miss Merle drives to Mathu's house where a group of men has gathered, some of them with shotguns. Candy tells her that she killed Beau, but Miss Merle does not believe her. Candy says that Mathu claims to have shot Beau and that two of the other old men also claim to have shot him. Candy asks her to get more people there with twelve-gauge shotguns and empty number five shells, so they can all claim they committed the killing.
Chimley is fishing with his friend Mat when they get the message to go to Mathu's house. They are scared because they know the whites will seek revenge for the killing of Beau. But they feel they ought to go to Mathu's since he was the only one they knew who had ever stood up to the whites. They agree to get a ride with Clatoo.
Mat waits for Clatoo to arrive and argues with his wife Ella. He tells her not to try to stop him from going to Marshall. Clatoo arrives with...
(The entire section is 1300 words.)
Chapters 1-2 Summary
George Eliot, Jr., known as Snookum, is the narrator. He is eating with his siblings and his grandmother, Grand Mon, who lives in the worker’s quarters of the Marshall Plantation. Candy, who is part owner of Marshall Plantation, comes running to the house crying for Grand Mon. Grand Mon commands the boys to stay at the table and goes outside to find Candy extremely upset. Toddy, Snookum’s brother, warns Snookum that he is free from his revenge since finding Snookum and Minnie playing “papa and mama” in the weeds. Candy calls for Snookum and tells him to run to all the men who work on the plantation and tell them to meet at Mathu’s house as quickly as possible. She also orders him to tell Miss Merle at the Big House to call Mr. Lou and have him come.
Snookum runs first to Mathu’s house, where he finds the tractor running but no one on it. He sees Mathu sitting with a shotgun and asks him where Charlie is. Mathu tells him to mind his own business, but Snookum sees Beau Boutan, who rents the Marshall Plantation, lying on his back with a shotgun wound. Snookum rushes to the Big House and calls for Janey, the housekeeper. He tells her to call Miss Merle (a neighbor) and Mr. Lou to come home. He sees Major, another resident of the Big House, drunk and lying in the hammock even though it is only noon. Snookum tells Janey he saw Beau shot and lying in the weeds. When Janey will not give him anything for delivering the message, he heads back home.
Janice Robinson (Janey) prays for mercy and tries to call both Mr. Lou and Miss Merle, but neither answers. As she continues to pray, Janey nervously dusts and notices Miss Bea, an elderly woman, hunting for pecans in the weeds. Janey worries that Miss Bea will get bitten by a snake and she will be to blame. Janey keeps on dusting until she sees Miss Merle approach the house. Janey tells her the news, which upsets Miss Merle. She tries to wake the Major (Jack), but Janey informs her that he has been passed out drunk since eleven o’clock. She tells Janey to keep on praying. She fears that Fix Boutan, Beau’s father, and his friends will take awful revenge against the Blacks for the death of his son. She gets back into the car and drives down to Mathu’s house in the worker’s quarters.
(The entire section is 423 words.)
Chapters 3-4 Summary
Myrtle Bouchard (Miss Merle) is the narrator. She has brought a pie for Jack (the Major) in an attempt to attract his attention, although he does not seem interested. When Miss Merle hears the news from Janey, she forgets the pie in the car and drives down to the quarters, where Candy is now joined by a crowd of people, three of whom (Mathu, Johnny Paul, and Rufe—all elderly men) are holding shotguns. Candy tells Miss Merle that is was she who shot Beau. Miss Merle has known Candy for twenty-five years, ever since she came to live at Marshall Plantation after her parents were killed in a car accident, and she knows Candy is lying. Candy insists repeatedly that she shot Beau, but Miss Merle believes Mathu pulled the trigger. She tells Miss Merle to gather up more people from the area and to have them bring their shotguns with empty number-five shells. Mathu, Johnny Paul, and Rufe have each also confessed to the murder, and Candy wants more people around when Mapes, the sheriff, arrives; she does not want him thinking he can overpower all of them. She intends to protect “her people.”
Candy tells Miss Merle to go talk to Janey to learn who else has had run-ins with Beau. When Miss Merle arrives back at the house, Miss Bea is sitting on the porch (the “garry”), demanding that Janey bring her a pea picker (gin and pink lemonade). Miss Merle tells Miss Bea that this is not the time for drinks. A man is dead and they need to round up more people, as Candy requested. Miss Bea admires Candy’s spunk for claiming to be the murderer. Janey comes unglued and begins sobbing. Miss Merle slaps her and tells her to give her names of people. Janey gives a few names of men who have been abused or offended by Fix Boutan or Beau. Miss Merle goes inside to begin calling them.
Robert Louis Stevenson Banks (Chimley) narrates now. Chimley and Mat, two elderly men, are fishing when Fue, a sissy boy as Chimley calls him, tells them to get their shotguns and an empty number five shell and go up to the Marshall house. If they don’t, they may as well hide under their beds from what will be coming. When they learn that Mathu killed Beau, they are impressed. Mathu is the only one of the Black community who has ever stood up to any of the Cajuns. Chimley returns home; his wife is upset and surprised that he has come back so early. Chimley says nothing as he loads his gun and fires it out the window, then he tells his wife to have the fish...
(The entire section is 470 words.)
Chapters 5-6 Summary
Mathew Lincoln Brown (Mat) narrates. When he returns home, he hands his sack of fish to his wife, Ella, and phones Clatoo, but he had just left with his shotgun. He then calls Billy Washington, whose wife tells him that Billy left in the truck with Clatoo, also carrying his gun. She thought they were going to the Old Mulatto Place where Jacob Aguillard lives. Jacob does not have a phone but he can call a neighbor, Leola. Clatoo has just pulled up in front of the house when Mat calls, so Mat has Leola give her late husband’s gun and some shells to Clatoo. As Mat makes these calls, Ella overhears and asks where he is going with all these guns. Mat tells her he is going hunting, but he will not tell her for what. She demands to know, and Mat eventually tells her he is finally standing up for something. He is standing up for their son, Oliver, who was left to die in the hospital because he was Black. Ella threatens to call the police, so Mat tears the phone out of the wall.
Mat jumps in the back of the truck when Clatoo passes by. Other old men are there as well, besides Billy and Jacob: Chimley and Cherry. The plan is to stop by the field and walk across to the Marshall Plantation. Mat asks Chimley how he is feeling, and Chimley admits he is scared.
Grant Bello (Cherry) narrates now. Clatoo stops for Yank, who is waiting behind a bush by the road. Dirty Red joins the group later. When the truck reaches a cane field, Clatoo stops the truck and tells the men to hop out because he has another load to pick up. The men walk across the cane field, and Billy fires at a rabbit but misses. The other men tease him for missing such an easy target, and Billy feels ashamed.
The men reach the old graveyard where their families have been buried since slavery times. Each stops to visit the unmarked graves and remember each person and the struggles they had. They believe this is why they are doing what they are doing—to make up for all those times. They are not standing up just for themselves but for their ancestors. Dirty Red, eating pecans he has picked up along the ground, reckons that some of them might be returning to the graveyard after the events of the day. Clatoo comes with another load of men. Clatoo makes sure everyone has an empty shell. After determining that no one wants to turn back, Clatoo leads the men forward.
(The entire section is 442 words.)
Chapters 7-8 Summary
Cyril Robillard (Clatoo) narrates as he meets Candy and the others at Mathu’s house, where a large group of people (mostly old men) has gathered. Many of the people have come from over ten miles away, which will be noted when they confess to Beau’s murder. Clatoo sees Mathu squatting against the wall, holding his shotgun. His skin is blue-black, a fact he is proud of as evidence that he has no White blood in him, contrary to the others. Reverend Jameson has also arrived; he is the only man who does not have a gun. He warns the others against what they plan to do. He sees more murder and his home being destroyed. Candy tells him to either shut up or go home. The tractor is still running, and no one wants to turn it off. Candy makes sure that all the men have their guns, they have all shot them, and they each have an empty shell. Jameson scoffs at this charade, doubting that it will fool Sheriff Mapes. Soon all of them see dust coming up the road. They assume it is Sheriff Mapes but it turns out to be Lou Dimes, Candy’s boyfriend.
Louis Alfred Dimoulin (Lou) is the narrator now. He broke the speed limit driving from Baton Rouge to Mathu’s house. He looks at the gathering of men and notices that Charlie is not among them, which does not surprise him. Charlie has always been timid around Beau and would not have the courage to confront him. When Candy tells Lou that she shot Beau, he does not believe her, and he knows she knows this. Lou questions some of the men; each one confesses to killing Beau. Lou checks Beau’s body and sees where the shotgun blast hit Beau on the left side of his chest. He has someone bring a blanket to cover the body.
Sheriff Mapes arrives with Griffin, his deputy. Mapes orders Griffin to shut off the tractor. He counts eighteen men with guns in the group. Candy tells him that Beau started beating Charlie with a stalk of cane. When Charlie ran off, Beau followed him on the tractor, carrying a shotgun. Candy ordered him to leave. When Beau did not stop, Candy shot him. Mapes does not believe her, but she swears that is what she will tell a court of law as well as the press. Mapes questions Billy, who confesses to the crime. Mapes slaps Billy twice, but Billy does not recant. Griffin brings Gable forward; Gable receives the same treatment, but he is not to be bullied. Reverend Jameson is next, but he refuses to say anything. Mapes knocks the reverend down, but he gets back up even when Mapes...
(The entire section is 514 words.)
Chapters 9-10 Summary
Joseph Seaberry (Rufe) is the narrator. Mapes calls Mathu over for questioning. Although Mapes likes and respects Mathu, he believes Mathu is the only one strong enough to have killed Beau. When Mathu confesses, Mapes tells him to send the others home. Mathu replies that he cannot because each man must do what he feels he ought to do. The others interrupt to say they are the murderers. Mapes listens patiently as some tell what White men have done to their female relatives. Johnny Paul becomes angry and tells Mapes that he does not understand how mechanization and the White man have taken over farming, depriving many Black men of work. Johnny Paul says that he killed Beau for all those in the past who have suffered because of Beau, his father, and White men like them. Tucker tells about his brother Silas, who raced two mules against a tractor driven by a Cajun. Silas knew he was supposed to lose, but his pride kept him from giving in. As a result, he was beaten to death by White men—along with some Black men who figured they had better join along with the Whites. Others give more reasons for killing Beau until Gable tells the story of his son, who was sent to the electric chair for raping a White girl. Coot, who is wearing his World War I uniform, says he killed Beau in retaliation for the segregation in the army, when Black men were good enough to fight but not good enough to be treated with respect back home.
Reverend Jameson criticizes Mapes for not arresting anyone. Beulah interrupts him to say she could tell stories of what has happened to Black women, but Mapes does not want to hear it. Griffin, the deputy, is contemptuous of the way Mapes lets the Blacks treat him. Mapes says he needs to take someone off to jail. Candy once again volunteers herself, but Mapes is not buying it. He decides to wait for the storm that he knows will hit once Fix gets his gang together.
Thomas Vincent Sullivan (Sully or T. V.) narrates now. At Louisiana State University, Gil (Beau’s brother) is informed of his brother’s murder. His best friend is Cal, who is Black. When Gil hears the news, he looks at Cal with hatred that Cal cannot understand. Sully, another friend, drives Gil to Marshall, where the police greet him and cheer him on for the big football game the next day; Gil is expected to be a star player.
Gil sees the group standing around and feels it is like an episode of The Twilight Zone. He asks Mapes why...
(The entire section is 530 words.)
Chapters 11-12 Summary
As the sun begins to set, Lou Dimes (the current narrator) tries to talk Candy into going home, but she refuses. Griffin stands in the ditch holding his pistol. Mapes thinks that, as soon as this is all over, he will get rid of Griffin. Miss Merle arrives with sandwiches for all the people who still remain in Mathu’s yard. They gratefully accept them because it has been a long day. As she passes out sandwiches, Miss Merle fusses at each person. Some take seconds, but most refuse when they see that there are not enough for two for everyone. Miss Merle ridicules Lou for being less than a man because he cannot control Candy. She looks to Mathu; the two of them have raised Candy after her parents died and it was clear that Major Jack and Miss Bea were incapable of doing the job. Mathu also refuses to send Candy home, stating that she has the right to make her own choices. When Mapes offers to walk her out to her car, Miss Merle snaps at him, but he simply wants to thank her for the sandwiches. Miss Merle says she needs to leave or else she will go mad. Lou asks Mapes what is going to happen, but he does not know. In the meantime, he is waiting to hear from his other deputy, Russell, who is at Boutans’ keeping Fix from coming to Marshall.
Sully narrates as he and Gil arrive at the Boutan home. They greet Russell, who warns them that everyone is waiting for Gil inside. The house is crowded, but Gil finds his father seated with the rest of the family. Gil explains that he was at Marshall but did not get to see Beau. He tells his father that Mapes does not want Fix or his gang to come over. Luke Will, a friend of Beau’s, urges Fix to head over immediately to Marshall and take his revenge. Fix tells Luke Will that he is not family and so has no right to speak. Gil pleads with his father to give up the vigilante mentality; the time for that has passed. He wants to play for Louisiana State University and be All-American, but he cannot if his family keeps on with this private war. Fix ridicules his son for being All-American and wanting to play alongside Blacks. Jean, Gil’s brother, also says he will not go with his father to Marshall. His butcher shop is nearby, and he must do business with all of the people there. Conflict breaks out with Luke Will and those who want to join Fix in seeking revenge against Gil and Jean. Finally, Fix kicks Gil and Jean out of the house. Russell urges Gil to forget Beau and play for Beau’s young son, Tee...
(The entire section is 492 words.)
Chapters 13-14 Summary
Jacques Thibeaux (Tee Jack) is the narrator. He runs a saloon visited mostly by the White members of the community. There was a “nigger room” before desegregation, after which the Black people refused to use it. When Tee Jack made it clear they were not welcome any place but the “nigger room,” they stopped coming. On this evening as on every evening, Jack Marshall (owner of the Marshall Plantation and Candy’s uncle) is sitting in his usual spot. There is also a nameless stranger who sits quietly and watches the other customers.
Luke Will and his gang come in and order a bottle of whiskey and some Cokes. Tee Jack is nervous because the gang is known to throw poisonous snakes in Black churches and tip over Black school buses. He avoids talking about Beau Boutan’s murder but Robert, another customer, brings it up. Marshall seems indifferent even though one of “his people” is accused. Marshall claims they are Candy’s people, not his. Everyone is shocked to learn that Fix’s sons have talked him out of taking revenge. Luke Will suggests that they lynch Mathu on their own. The stranger, whom they discover is a professor at a nearby university, says those days are over. Luke Will and his gang suggest to the professor that it is time for him to leave. Jack Marshall gets up to leave, and the professor begs him to stop what is about to happen on his land. Marshall tells the professor to go back to Texas, where he is originally from. Tee Jack is left alone with Luke Will and his gang, which makes him nervous; he knows how quickly they can turn violent.
Albert Jackson (Rooster) narrates now. After Miss Merle leaves, the men continue to stand around and wait. Mapes, who has talked to Russell, tells them Fix is not coming because Gil and Jean talked him out of it. He asks Mathu if he is ready to leave, and Mathu states that he is. The other men object and try to block them from leaving. Clatoo requests a few minutes to talk with Mathu alone. When the other men come along, Candy also tries to join them, but Clatoo says that the meeting is just for men. Candy becomes angry and tells the men that if they let Mathu go, she will throw them off the plantation. Lou confronts her and says the men are not her slaves. She is willing to stand between them and the law only if they do what she says. Eventually Lou picks her up and puts her in her car. As the men are talking inside, Charlie shows up and tells someone to go get the...
(The entire section is 456 words.)
Chapters 15-16 Summary
Lou Dimes narrates; he sits in the car with Candy, but she is not speaking to him. He tells her there is going to be a big change in her life after this night. Mathu freed her when he pushed her hand off his arm when she was trying to hold him back. Mathu no longer needs her to protect him. He is an old man, and he wants to live the rest of his life in his own way. Lou tells Candy that before he leaves he wants an answer from her concerning marriage. If he does not get any answer, he will not be coming back. In reply, Candy slaps his face. Lou thanks her and says he will stick around just to get an end for the newspaper story he will write about this day.
An old man comes out of the house and asks for the sheriff, who has walked off, further into the quarters. Lou blinks the car lights and Mapes comes walking back. Mapes invites Lou and Candy to come listen to what there is to hear. They find Charlie sitting there. Charlie insists repeatedly that he is a man: a boy runs away but a man faces the consequences. He is fifty years old but he is always been treated like a boy. Charlie explains what happened that day.
Beau had cussed at him, and Charlie decided he had taken enough. When Charlie told him he quit, Beau beat him with a stalk of cane but Charlie beat him back. Beau fell to the ground with blood streaming from his head, and Charlie panicked and thought he killed him. He ran to Mathu’s cabin and begged Mathu to take the blame. He said Mathu was old and would soon die anyway. He could die in prison as easily as at home. When he heard Candy’s car, Charlie took off running and hid down by the river. After several hours, he felt called to return to the house and face the situation like a man. He tells Mapes he is ready to go. Before they can leave the house, they hear Luke Will ordering Mapes to hand Charlie over.
Sidney Brooks (Coot) narrates now. The old men tell Mapes they are ready to fight. Mapes points out that their guns are empty, but they tell him that all day long they have been collecting shells for this minute. Mapes goes out to the porch. Griffin decides he will not take Mapes’s side against White men to protect some “niggers.” Luke Will fires and strikes Mapes in the arm. The old men in the house open fire at Luke Will and his gang, who take cover behind the tractor. Coot remembers his days as a soldier in World War I. He has not felt so good since then.
(The entire section is 476 words.)
Chapters 17-18 Summary
Snookum is the narrator. As soon as Mapes is shot, the shooting from the house begins. Through the door and the window, and even into the ceiling, the old men fire at the Cajuns hiding behind the tractor. Snookum tells himself that he had better get out of the house. Grand Mon has Toddy and Snookum’s sister, Minnie, so all she can do is to shout for Snookum to stop when he takes off running. Running out through the kitchen, Snookum crawls under the house until he reaches the front steps. He sees Mapes sitting on the walk, rocking back and forth, unable to stand up because of his weight. Snookum is determined not to risk himself to help the sheriff. He hears Gram Mon calling him and Reverend Jameson calling on the Lord.
Snookum sees Lou crawling on the other side of the house. He stops when he sees Snookum. Lou tells Snookum to get back into the house because his Gram Mon is calling him. Snookum does not answer him, nor is he going back to the house for fear his grandmother will beat him for not answering her first call. Lou crawls out to Mapes and tells him Griffin has resigned. Mapes tells Lou that he is in charge now and begins to deputize him. Lou objects but Mapes tells him to leave him alone and figure out what to do by himself.
Horace Thompson (Sharp) narrates now. Out behind the tractor, Leroy, a teenage Cajun, is shot in the arm but carries on is if he were dying. The others tell him to shut up. Leroy calls out to Mapes for help, but Mapes tells him that it is just too bad. Luke Will calls to Mapes that they have a young boy who is hurt and needs to be removed from the scene. Mapes tells him to go ahead, but Luke Will is afraid of the old men shooting. Mapes simply tells him to shoot them as he shot Mapes. When Luke Will tells him that it was a “nigger” who shot him, Mapes tells him that he has witnesses. Luke Will tells Mapes that the Cajuns are almost out of shells. Charlie calls out to tell him he has plenty. If he will send a Cajun up, he will give them some. When Luke Will tells Mapes to call the old men off, Mapes tells him that Lou is in charge now. Lou calls to Charlie, who says that he is headed for the electric chair for one, so it might as well be for all of them. This frightens Luke Will, who tells Sharp to look after his wife and kids if he does not make it. When Sharp says that he does not think Mapes will allow the men to shoot the Cajuns, Luke Will says Charlie is the one in charge now.
(The entire section is 482 words.)
Chapters 19-20 Summary
Antoine Christophe (Dirty Red) is the narrator; he and Charlie are in a ditch and the other men are scattered all around. Charlie asks for a cigarette. Lou calls out and suggests that he let the men turn themselves in, warning him that it will be murder now. When Charlie replies that it was murder before, Lou points out that it was an act of self-defense, to which Candy will swear in a court of law. Charlie insists that now that he is a man, he will stand. He tells Dirty Red that life is sweet when you know you aren’t a coward any more. Dirty Red asks Charlie what he saw in the swamps that gave him such courage. Charlie replies that Dirty Red, along with the other men, also saw it.
When Lou tells Charlie that he is coming out, Charlie gets up and starts walking toward the tractor. A shot rings out, and Charlie is hit in the stomach, but he keeps on walking. He keeps firing at the tractor until he slowly falls. Everyone begins shooting for about a minute, than all becomes quiet. Luke Will is also dead. Everyone gathers around Charlie’s body. Dirty Red touches him, hoping to get whatever it was that Charlie got in the swamp. All of the other people do the same. Aunt Glo has her grandchildren also come up to touch Charlie.
Lou Dimes narrates. Three funerals are held two days later; the trial takes place the following week. Candy hires a lawyer for her people while the Klan defends the Cajuns. Everyone washes up and wears suits for the trial, which lasts three days. The courthouse is packed with spectators from all over the South as well as people from the local and national media. As the trial proceeds, a comic atmosphere prevails; each of the witnesses refers to the others by their nicknames—Clabber, Dirty Red, Coot, Chimley, Rooster—which causes the crowd to laugh. The media think the whole situation is astonishing but not too serious. The high point comes when the judge questions why Mapes was not in control of the situation. Reluctantly, Mapes admits that he was sitting on the walk the whole time.
The jury deliberates for three hours. The two principal participants, Charlie and Luke Will, are dead, so the judge can pass no judgment on them except to hope they rest in peace. As for the others, they are placed on probation for five years, during which time they are not to carry guns or get within ten feet of anyone carrying a gun. As Candy and Lou leave the courtroom, Candy reaches her hand for Lou’s.
(The entire section is 449 words.)