In A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest J. Gaines, what does Mathu say about the men having gathered at his house?

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perfectsilence eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest J. Gaines, Mathu has gained a reputation as the only black character to take a stand against the oppression of the surrounding Louisiana community. Early in the story, Chimley tells the story of the time Mathu stood up to Fix, an angry, racist Cajun. Mathu and Fix fought for over an hour, and when the fight was over, "Mathu was up, and Fix was down." Chimley goes on to say, "that wasn't the last fight Mathu had on that river with them white people." To the majority of the other black characters, Mathu represents what they wish they were.

Mathu views the rest of the black community in a similar way to that in which they see themselves. To him, they don't stand up for their rights; they are content to live with the abuse of the surrounding white communities. Because of this, he resents them. But when the black community gathers at Mathu's house to help protect him against arrest, each of them claiming to have been the one who shot Beau, Mathu experiences a change of heart. In Rooster's chapter, the old black men gather together inside of Mathu's house, at which time they reiterate their vow to stay by Mathu's side, with each continuing to take the blame for the murder.  Mathu, weary, tells them that they don't have anything else to prove, that they "done already proved it," and follows up with a heartfelt confession:

"Till a few minutes ago, I felt the same way that man out there feel about y'all—you never would 'mount to anything. But I was wrong. And he's still wrong. 'Cause he ain't go'n ever face the fact. But now I know. And I thank y'all. And I look up to you. Every man in here. And this the proudest day of my life."

Here Mathu lays it all out for them. In his mind, the other black men were nothing, but the day's events have proven that they are willing to stand up together. He continues:

"I ain't nothing but a mean, bitter old man.  Hating them out there on that river, hating y'all here in the quarters. Put myself above all—proud to be African. You know why proud to be African? 'Cause they won't let me be a citizen here in this country. Hate them 'cause they won't let me be a citizen, hated y'all 'cause you never tried [...] I been changed. Not by that white man's God. I don't believe in that white man's God. I been changed by y'all."

Rather than simply thank them for their support, Mathu begins to understand how his own biases prevented him from seeing them as the men that they are. Here Gaines does an excellent job of showing the insidious nature of racism. It isn't simply directed from one race toward another; rather, it can turn those of the same race against one another, based on their reactions to the initial racism directed at them. However, through the gathering of old men, Mathu has identified his own unwarranted biases, thus taking the first step in overcoming them.

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A Gathering of Old Men

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