What exemplifies the American national narrative in the story “The Sky is Gray” by Ernest J. Gaines? How do the African Americans relate to the American national narrative in the story?

The American national narrative is exemplified in “The Sky Is Gray” by James’s experiences and desires. The boy begins to partake in adult-type responsibilities, but he also craves a different type of material and intellectual advancement. Author Ernest J. Gaines contrasts James’s interactions with the older white woman and the young black man in showing how social limitations differ from his aspirations.

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In Ernest J. Gaines’s story “The Sky Is Gray ,” the American national narrative is exemplified through the character of James, a young boy who has several significant experiences as well as important insights about what he wants out of life. James is shown as engaging in the...

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In Ernest J. Gaines’s story “The Sky Is Gray,” the American national narrative is exemplified through the character of James, a young boy who has several significant experiences as well as important insights about what he wants out of life. James is shown as engaging in the kinds of responsibilities that an adult African American man might be expected to do, but he also thinks about getting ahead in the world—not just in material terms but also by using his intellect. These differing ideas correspond to his interactions with an older white woman, who shows both kindness and condescension toward James and his mother, as well as his observations of a young African American man, who boldly rejects an older clergyman’s paternalism.

In the course of a single day, when their goal is to get medical attention for James’s tooth, the boy meets several people in highly distinct circumstances. When he and his mother, Octavia, are hungry, a white woman shows kindness by bringing them into her home and feeding them. James partly repays her by doing a household chore, taking out the trash. Although his behavior corresponds to his mother’s insistence of never taking charity, the kind of work he is asked to do is entirely consistent with the sorts of jobs to which African Americans were generally limited in those years.

This reinforcement of the highly circumscribed social expectations regarding Black ambition presents a stark contrast to the interactions he witnessed between the preacher and the rebellious young man. Although the older man reacted violently to young man’s blatant rejection of religion, the young man calmly continued with his reading. This episode stimulated unfamiliar desires in James, who saw that there could be more to life. Beyond being impressed by the young man’s appearance to desire such nice clothes, James was determined to have books of his own.

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In the short story "The Sky is Gray", James and his mother, Octavia, are, in essence, attempting to portray the American dream while also suffering as they experience the harsh reality of the African-American life. The American dream, and the national narrative, is essentially pulling yourself up by your bootstraps—work hard and you can fix your problems and better your position in life.

James and Octavia live a very desolate life after his father departs for war. They have little money and barely any food to survive. Octavia teaches James the necessity of killing to eat in case he has to provide for the family one day, even though it is a difficult and terrifying lesson for him. The two are doing everything they can to improve their lives, but most importantly, they're just trying to get by.

One of the ways they show the American narrative is in Octavia's sense of pride and her control of situations—she has no money, but she refuses to tell others that she hasn't eaten and refuses the handouts that are offered her. When they are offered a meal near the end of the story, to preserve their pride, James "works" for it by taking out trash cans, though they turn out to be empty, or at least mostly so. James and his mother are determined to work for everything they receive.

The African-American version of the American narrative is much more chilling because they are constantly oppressed and had little opportunity to better themselves. When they received the chance to improve their lot, things come along that make it more difficult—such as James's toothache, which drains all of their finances. Pride is maintained as much as possible, such as when Octavia maintains that she has eaten, but there is only so much they can do to actually improve their lot. Because of the position they have been forced into by society, they cannot succeed without the helping hand of someone in a better place.

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