What are the social rules observed in "The Sky Is Gray"?

In "The Sky Is Gray," James must observe rules about self-control and obedience as well as holding his tongue and not accepting handouts. Societal rules he must observe include sitting at the back of the bus, waiting for service until the white people have been cared for, not staring, following segregation, and not asking questions.

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In Ernest J. Gaines's story “The Sky Is Gray,” James knows the rules. He is surrounded by them, both at home and out in public. His mama makes it very clear how he is to behave. She will not tolerate “crybaby stuff” or weakness in her children. They are to learn how to control themselves and do what they must no matter how hard it is. They are not to complain. When James was younger and resisted killing the redbirds, he received a beating so he would know not to disobey his mother again. James doesn't even complain about his toothache, but the adults know what is going on anyway.

James's mama also teaches her son to hold his tongue. He is not to speak unnecessary things. Further, James learns that he is not to accept something for nothing. This, too, is a rule that his mother follows and expects her son to observe as well. In the little café, Mama buys some food so they are not just sitting enjoying the heat. At the store, she insists that James work for his food, and she doesn't let the old lady give them too much salt meat for their quarter. Mama wants to be fair at all times, but sometimes she overdoes this, and her pride kicks in. She doesn't always know how to accept kindness from other people.

There are rules in society that James must also follow. “Colored” people, for instance, must sit at the back of the bus. James and Mama go straight to the back when they get on, and James must stand even though there are plenty of seats in the front. At the dentist office, James and Mama sit in their designated spot and wait for a long time. James doesn't even get in to see the dentist at first because all the white people are taken before him. He and Mama must leave and come back later.

Mama always reminds James to keep his eyes to the front and not stare at the white people they pass on the street or into the windows of the white-only restaurants. Mama and James cannot even enter into those no matter if they are cold and hungry. Further, as the preacher says in the dentist's office, they are not to question anything. They are just to go on about their lives and mind their own business. This is what society expects of people like James and Mama.

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