A Gathering of Old Men Themes

A Gathering of Old Men Themes

Racial Prejudice

In Louisiana, deep in the south, racial prejudice still thrives in the plantation community of Bayonne. Men like the sheriff operate based upon this implicit preference for the white citizens. When Mathu is accused, he becomes the primary suspect among a dozen men simply because he's black. Sheriff Mapes expresses his racial prejudice freely, telling Mathu and Charlie that they are suspects because of their ethnicity, despite the complicated multiple confessions. In a much more extreme way, Fix gives sway to racial prejudice by not even bothering to seek evidence or justice. He hears of Beau's murder and immediately seeks a black victim on which to enact his personal revenge, regardless of the man's innocence. The courtesy of the law and of presumed innocence do not seem to apply to the black members of the community, placing them at enormously dangerous disadvantages, not to mention the humiliation of such a practice.


Several examples of solidarity exist within this novel, the first of which being the men of the plantation rallying behind Mathu. At Candy's instruction, the older men all gather to implicate themselves for Beau's murder. If all of them confess, then Mathu's confession will mean nothing demonstrable to the sheriff's investigation. These men are willing to risk being tried for murder in order to stand behind their colleague, Mathu. This demonstration of courage and love is profound. Contrast this with the Baton brothers' own version of solidarity. Naturally they want justice for their brother's murder, but they know what kind of a deplorable character their brother was. None of them is willing to precede in some kind of violent uprising unless all the other brothers are on board as well. In the end, Gil's hesitation keeps all of the brothers at home. Finally, the sheriff relies upon local volunteers, like Luke, to complete his investigation. The volunteers, however, are not interested in justice as much as bloodshed. They come prepared for violence. Still, the sheriff backs them up because he needs their protection to escape the property afterward.

Violent Retribution

Apparently the only way to respond to a murder is with more violence. At least thats what the residents of Bayonne demonstrate. Fix and Luke are eager to shed blood after Fix's brother's death. They don't care whether their killing innocent victims. Only the enactment of violent retribution will satisfy their gory appetites. Fix has an entire history of leading lynch mobs against black men in the community, being personally responsible for many deaths. He bears so much silent, racially-motivated anger in his daily life that he's rearing for any excuse to act. For his part, the sheriff arrives at the plantation for the purpose of fulfilling the law, but he also makes little attempt to prevent violence, especially when Luke arrives.

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