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Ernst J. Gaines depicts a prominent image of black people in and against the white society in African and American areas. As an eight-year-old writer, the speaker walks the listener into the difficult lives of black people. The narrative is notable in its approach to explaining the everyday challenges of African-Americans. Gaines draws a vivid image of an Afro-American poor family whose single breadwinner is called to fight in a conflict, further worsening their situation. The author uses symbolism to depict the changing nature of white people towards the blacks, even though both fight for the prosperity and pride of the country, making their life miserable (Blaut p. 290). The strength of the black people in the waning circumstances of the country is what author is trying to render in this story.
The story opens with an open scene about an eight year old boy, James, and his mother, Octavia, waiting for a bus to go to Beyonne. The author attempts to symbolize the poverty, misery, hopelessness, and distrust with the chilly weather at the bus stand and the weary thoughts of the mother regarding their meagre situation. Gaines beautifully depicts this heart-breaking episode of a mother and her eight tear old son who did have even enough clothes to save themselves from the chilly weather. The inability of the family members describes their on-going fatigued condition. Also, waiting at the bus stop is beautifully signified with the time lag and longing of the mother for the betterment of her family condition. Her husband is away for a long time, fighting in a war for the pride of their country. They do know if he is still alive. There is no news of him. They are lost whether to treat him as alive or dead. His absence implies the lacking hope of the family for their progress.
The blacks are seen as people with increased urge for fight, poor mental ability, reduced living standard, drug addicts, criminals, and living off the law. All these attributes are well conveyed by the author through his writing abilities. However, there are other aspects which are even more complex towards the representation of blacks (Keita ans Rick p. 534). For instance, they are portrayed as murderers and criminals by the media, innately developed and dominated by the whites. All these reasons correspond to the personalities towards which different people looks very differently.
It is quite interesting to remind W.E.B. DuBois's statement regarding racism in order to get a clear cut understanding of the statement of Gaines with similar context - "The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line" (W.E.B. DuBois). It explains the relevance of the title of the Gaines’s short story ‘The sky is gray’ with that of the consistent increase in the hopelessness of the coloured people. Everything that is mentioned in the story exits with colourless and layered context. One of the main insights of the story is inclined towards the valiant strength of Octavia against her daily realities. She even prepares James for being strong against the upcoming callousness of the whites. It is symbolized prettily by the author though a scene of killing two redbirds, first one killed by his mother and James was compelled to kill the second one. James did not want to kill them but, in order to cultivate ruggedness and hard spot within his soul, his mother forced him to do that. Later, he earned a small meal for his family by killing two morsels. His family `felt proud about him and thus, he realised that his mother wants him to develop stern behaviour for its use in the coming future (McConahay p. 552).
The above is a very crucial episode of the story presented by Gaines. It is because James is just eight years old. He is a young boy with curious attitude. Even though he cares for his mother, he hides his love and respect from her. Also, his mother wants him to behave like a mature person. Because of their poverty, Octavia is always in a state of distress. She always thinks about lack of wood for warmth of her children. They eat bread and soup during breakfast and consistently have beans for dinner. They live in a deserted condition with very les resources and respect even though they belong to their country. The author painted a much unblemished image of the family who live without any physical or emotional support.
Gaines brilliantly related the deprived condition of the black people in a very creative way. He employs rich symbolism to capture a very picture of the whites’ policies and behaviour towards the blacks (McConahay p. 552). For instance, James was suffering from a punitive toothache. He is well aware of the financial status of his family even though he is a young boy. He does not complaint about his aching tooth as he was brought up with this kind of behaviour. His aunt finally found him in very bad condition and he was taken to a dentist. His mother told him not to scream or cry because of pain. He has to behave like a man. Now this is irony, an eight year old boy has to behave like a man. It is brilliance of the write to depict imposition of whites’ culture, so called the developed culture, on the coming generations. The write wants to convey that black people teach such stuff to their younger ones. It clearly represents mental their occupation which has very bad associated consequences.
Racism and prejudice involves division of human beings on the bases of their colour, ethnicity, race, and innate capabilities which give to classification including inferior and superior classes (Ronald p. 58). The author in this story attempts to illustrate the deprivation of a family regarding according to the created inferior-superior concept. The story takes its audience deep into the survival of a deprived family of Louisiana who are often being challenged for their basic rights. The brilliance of the writing capabilities of the author puts the whole scenario in a very simple way, explaining the nitty-gritties of the survival of an eight year old son without his father or a stern wife without her husband. The depiction of the family’s struggle is absolute and gives a very sharp idea about the increasing brutalities of the dominant class on the black people on being black or grey. The author presents a philosophical argument about the reduced standard of life of the coloured people. Lack of money, honour, and even representation directs their life to darkness. The whole story takes place in one day, confirming the interesting etiquettes of the author’s understanding and even experience of racism through many faces (Watson, 137).
The story was written more than just to enjoy the sad episodes of black people by the writer. The author tries to put forward the injustice and racial discrimination of the white dominance gainst black people. The whole landscape described by the writer id gray and the presence of cold is everywhere, making them central to the story. The story is written around the time when ‘civil rights movement’ was started to promote non-violence and non-cooperation. The Black people have been taken for granted for centuries. They were kept devoid of natural rights and basic human rights, making their life more miserable. Their history of dejection is very long, making them as non-existent in the eyes of the whites.
Ernst J. Gaines attempts to paint a very vibrant picture of the miserable conditions of black people because of the consistent racism and discrimination against them. The author uses symbolizes through the depiction of the dejection of the black people in their daily life. James and his mother along with their family including her husband experience racism and racial discrimination at every place and every point of time. The family members attained strange attributes towards each other and even towards the whites. The reasons behind their changing behaviour include their unjustified segregation within the domains of their immediate society to they also belong. Octavia’s husband left his home to sacrifice his life for the sake of his country. But, unfortunately, his gesture was not counted as he is a black person. Do coloured people really are inferior in comparison to the white population? Do not they deserve basic human rights? Do they have to be submissive and their children have to behave like men? All these questions were beautifully posed by the author in the story, symbolizing the poor resources of the black people for their grey future and hoary lives.
Gaines, Ernst J. The Sky Is Gray. Bloodkline. 1963.
Blaut, James M. "The Theory of Cultural Racism" Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography. (1992). pp. 289–99.
Keita, Shomarka O.Y. & Rick A. Kittles (1997). "The persistence of racial thinking and the myth of racial divergence". American Anthropologist. 99 (3): 534–44.
McConahay, J. B. "Modern Racism and Modern Discrimination The Effects of Race, Racial Attitudes, and Context on Simulated Hiring Decisions". Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. (1983).9 (4): 551–58.
Ronald, James Harrison, Africa and the Islands, (Wiley: 1965), p. 58
Watson, Veronica T. (2013). The Souls of White Folk: African American Writers Theorize Whiteness. Jackson, MS: The University Press of Mississippi. p. 137.
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