Ernest J. Gaines was thirty in 1963, the year in which ‘‘The Sky is Gray’’ was first published, but it was not until five years later, in 1968, that the story was published as the second story in Bloodline, the thematically interwoven collection with which readers associate it today. Written during the most turbulent years of the Civil Rights movement, the stories in Bloodline describe a less turbulent but perhaps even more racially raw period: Louisiana in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
‘‘The Sky is Gray’’ contains many of the themes and images Gaines returns to again and again in his work: themes of personal responsibility, grace under pressure, and moral behavior; images of strong mothers, mysteriously absent fathers, and families in which love is expressed more often in harsh words or silence than in overt praise or affection. Supporting these ideas is Gaines’s keen awareness of the all-pervasive and profoundly formative influence of race on virtually every aspect of life in the rural South of this era. Though he would no doubt take issue with the South being described as a singular place and would certainly argue that it is many places, each different, each having unique gifts of nature and people, each facing unique challenges, he would just as surely agree with W. E. B. Du Bois’s famous observation, in the ‘‘Forethought’’ of The Souls of Black Folk, that ‘‘the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line,’’ for it is this ‘‘color line’’ in all of its manifestations that his work so carefully documents.