Gaines sets his book, A Gathering of Old Men, in the 70's on the sugarcane plantations of Louisiana. It is about the conflicts between the whites and the blacks within an isolated parish. This story revolves around a young white woman, Candy, several older black men and the death of a Cajun, Beau, to whom they all confess to killing. Gaines" paints his story in a very vivid way by going into great detail to describe each character and his/her looks. Also within the story he expresses clearly the racial tensions and the oppression that the blacks were put under by the white people.
Beau and his family were the source of pain and hardship on the local black people. They had been used as their slaves up until the end of slavery but they were still looked down on and mistreated badly. The blacks were scared of the Boutan family and what it stood for. They had always been beaten down by them but things changed with the killing of one of the Boutan sons. The gathering of the men showed strength and determination to stand up finally after a lifetime of submission and suppression.
The suppression of the blacks is seen in the picture of the weeds used throughout the book. The weeds are mentioned on several occasions in the text; "The bushes and weeds grew so tall on either side of the road that the road seems no wider than a king-sized bed sheet (Gaines 59)." They can be a symbol of the Boutan's in that weeds, when grown up, take over wherever they are and that is what this family has down. They have taken control of the blacks and mistreated them over the years. The blacks look at the Boutan's as a source of pain and hardship.
Throughout the book, the over grown weeds are mentioned several times; "You had to walk in grass knee-high to reach some of the graves (45)." "The whole place was all sunked in, and you had weeds everywhere (46)." When Beau is killed he is found lying in weeds.