Themes and Meanings
“The Sky Is Gray” takes as its major theme the issue of black pride in the face of intolerable conditions of poverty. James and his family are reduced to poverty, ironically, by his father’s service in the army. In the face of these hardships, James has been forced to sacrifice his childhood to the harsh realities of survival in a hostile, unforgiving world. The episode in which he is forced to kill the redbirds in order for the family to eat powerfully dramatizes the extent to which his mother must force him to overcome his own natural feelings for the sake of the family’s need. As James comes to realize, there is no room for softness or gentleness in their world. What superficially appears to be cruelty on Octavia’s part is her way of preparing him for a hard future.
Despite the grinding poverty of their lives, Octavia retains her pride and instills it in her son. James, like any child, cannot fully understand why his mother insists on paying her way when charity is offered, but the reader is aware that she is developing in him a sense of pride and character that will enable him to rise above his environment. Intuitively, he wants to be like the educated young black man he saw in the dentist’s office, but he can become so only if he develops a sense of manhood based on self-reliance, self-respect, and pride. Octavia gives him that opportunity, even though her methods are hard. When, at the end of the story, she tells him that he is a man,...
(The entire section is 448 words.)