The image of racial tension and segregation in A Gathering of Old Men is portrayed by the setting. The setting gives way to many important themes throughout the novel, one of them being the redefinition of black masculinity. The novel is set around the mid 1900s on a sugarcane plantation in rural Louisiana. This southern setting displays the tension occurring between blacks and whites. African Americans now began to demand equality and would not be suppressed by whites. One theme of the book, the redefinition of black masculinity, is greatly shaped by the setting.
At this time, Blacks were evolving to no longer being tolerant of abuse and punishment inflicted by white men. This “new” black man decided to not be submissive; he would now speak up and stand up. In one instance, Uncle Billy replies, “I kilt him,” when questioned by Sheriff Mapes about Beau’s murder. An angry Sheriff Mapes slaps him and repeats the questions; Mapes receives the same answer. This redefined black man is shown again during the fight scene. Instead of backing down from the lynch mob, the men fight back and the racial battle begins.
Improvement in racial relations is shown through the younger generation. Gil and Cal, the football duo “Salt and Pepper,” depended on each other to achieve success in their football careers. Gil’s willingness to rebel against his family’s racist behavior expresses that racial interdependence must occur for success. The location and time period of the novel directly affect the plot. Having the story set in the segregated south plays a major role in the depiction of the racial tension which occurs. The time period plays into the redefining of black masculinity and racial interdependence.