“The Sky is Gray” by Ernest Gaines sample essay
“The Sky is Gray”, a story written by Ernest Gaines, features a young mind in the person of an eight-year-old black boy, James, who lives in rural Louisiana. As such a young age, James life revolves around the era of social upheaval, racial inequality, poverty, orientation and transformation from a boy to a man, and the emotional whirlwind too much for a child to deal with.
The story is told entirely from James’ point of view, to limit the reader from what James sees and understands. The reader is therefore confined to the mindset of an eight-year old boy for the reader to feel his emotions, his hunger, his confusion, his worries, and the simplicity of his thoughts. Early in the story is an anecdote where James and his brother set traps for owls and blackbirds, but the traps netted redbirds instead. James was horrified when his mother killed one of the redbirds because he believes them to be beautiful. He eventually killed the second bird when his mother beat him for refusing to kill it. He then basked in his family’s pride in him for providing this little piece of meat for their supper. Even at such a young age, James realized that his mother was preparing him for the hard ways of the world. (Parks)
In the first part of the story, James vividly recalls why he and his mother need to go a white-dominated town. James disguised his toothache because he knows that his family cannot afford the medications. But when the pain is too much for him to handle, they decided to go to the nearby Bayonne to visit the dentist. This is where he began to see the realities of life.
An argument occurs in the dentist’s office between a preacher who believes that one must accept everything in life without questioning God’s will and a young black college student who believes that one must “question everything. Every stripe. Every star. Every word spoken. Everything.” Using reasoning and education as support, the young black student made James realize the importance of asserting one’s belief, and expressing one’s opinion, by seeing the truthfulness of the student’s statement which says “We don’t question is exactly our problem.” (Schechter and Semeiks; Lathan et al.)
The preacher then slaps the student in the face, and the student, showing no reaction at all, merely sits down and continue reading. (Parks) More than the entertainment, the story was meant as a critique of social injustice in Louisiana between the 1930s and the 1960s. This fiction focuses on the peculiar plight of Black Americans in the South and the strong communal bonds characteristic of Southern black folk culture. (Parks)
Although James age is too young for him to articulate what happened, he realized that he had enough of the harsh realities of life, and that he will have to use the strength his mother is giving him to prepare for the real world. The delays in the dentist’s office made James and his mother walk out in the cold and sleet city full of restaurants they cannot enter, products they cannot buy, and discriminating people, where the mother and child suddenly found themselves inside the store of a woman who offered them something to eat.
The woman offered them a whole salt meat but Octavia (the mother) does not want to accept it unless the woman cut it in half. The woman asked James to put out the trash in exchange for the food that she is going to give the two. Octavia fears that she cannot afford to pay the woman, and she doesn’t want her to ask James any other favor in exchange for what the store owner is going to give them, therefore she does not want top accept the whole salt meat. It is also outside the dentist’s clinic when they met the compassion of an old couple, therefore realizing that not everyone is as bad as they thought.
“The Sky is Gray” contains many of the themes like themes of social responsibility, grace under pressure, and moral behavior; images of strong mothers, mysteriously absent fathers, and families in which love is expressed more often in harsh words or silence than in overt praise or affection. The main action in the story is the overarching transformation of James as he moves far along the path toward understanding the moral complexity of adulthood and of being “a man” in the course of a single day. (Lathan et al.)
Lathan, Stan, et al. The Sky Is Gray. videorecording. Monterey Home Video ;
Artsberg distributor, Canoga Park, Calif.
Hong Kong, 1994.
Parks, John G. American Short Stories since 1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Schechter, Harold, and Jonna Gormely Semeiks. Discoveries : Fifty Stories of the Quest. 2nd ed. New York ; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.
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