Mallon is quick to note that, in Ernest J. Gaines" The Sky is Gray, Gaines writes about a southern society in which every attempt possible is made to deny black men a sense of masculinity (49). In his story Gaines creates a society denying black men the opportunity to provide for their families, the opportunity to be treated equally under the law, and the proper respect of being called " Mister" instead of "boy," but it is a private or internal struggle more than any public or external debate that creates the real identity crisis for the young black man in Gaines" story (Meyers 414). Gaines shows this harsh struggle by writing about, James an eight year old boy forced to grow up by his mother, Octavia. She forces James to grow up by teaching him how and why he must learn to provide for his family, to have respect and pride in himself, and how to negotiate the tricky path of maintaining dignity but not insulting hateful whites. At first, readers might be inclined to believe Octavia stifles James" growth by forcing him to accept such harsh responsibilities at such an innocent stage of his life. Though the reader is quick to note that Octavia realizes how harsh reality is and that she only wants her boy to be mentally and physically prepared for whatever trials and tribulations he must endure during his lifetime.
Due to the absence of his father and being the oldest male of the household, James is forced to quickly learn the responsibilities of being the head.
of the household, at the tender age of eight. Gaines writes: "She don"t worry too much if she leaves me there with the smaller ones, cause she knows I"m go"n to look after them and look after everything else" (476). This shows James" acknowledgement of his responsibilities, which include taking care of his younger siblings and doing whatever other household duties need to be done for the family to run smoothly.