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 follow simultaneously the thoughts and actions of the sheriff and his deputy, the Boutan family members, and the old African American men. It seems obvious to all the characters that despite Candy’s claim, it is Mathu who is responsible for Beau’s death. Tension builds as all the characters begin to converge on Mathu’s house, where a standoff between Sheriff Mapes, Mathu, and Candy develops.
Candy Marshall is an untraditional plantation owner, being young, female, and on the side of the old black men rather than of the white authorities. She is incapable, however, of breaking out of the tradition of protectionism and patronage...
(The entire section is 860 words.)