Critical Analysis of the Story The Sky is Gray by Ernest Gaines The title of the story “The Sky is Gray” by Ernest Gaines is ironic. It suggests at first the bleak mood of the story but also hints at hope in the future. Just as the clouds clear after a storm, James finds out on his trip to Bayonne that the stormy clouds that are his life are parting to let some sunshine through. Throughout the whole story, a very bleak mood is portrayed.
The setting contributes to this gloominess. For example, the weather is awful. James, seeing how cold it was, said, “I seen the smoke coming out o’ the cow’s nose.” Later he says, “The sleet keep falling. Falling like rain now- plenty, plenty.” Once James turns up his collar to protect himself from the very windy conditions that also exist throughout the story. Another sign of the story’s gloominess is the fact that many of its scenes are without color.
For example, the road in this story is very gray: “It’s a long old road, and far’s you can see you don’t see nothing but gravel,” as James put it. James also lets it be known that “the sky is gray” and that there isn’t much grass. Even the clothing that they wear is very dull-colored! James’ mother is “wearing that black coat and that black hat.” The story takes place during a war, which contributes to the overall gloomy setting of the story. “I wonder when us go’n see him again…Look like he ain’t ever coming home,” James laments, showing that his father went into the war and most likely is dead. The father’s absence leaves his family without adequate food, money, or manpower. The family’s poverty (which is partially due to the father’s absence) makes their future seem hopeless. The family lives in a poor, rural area, which was typical of black persons of their time. The family is crowded into a small, shabby home, so they must share rooms and beds. The family’s clothes are quite shabby too, for when James sees a mannequin in a store with new brown shoes, he looks at his own old shoes and thinks, “You wait till Summer…” The family does not even have enough money for some of life’s other necessities, such as food and medical care. For example, they eat bread and syrup every day for breakfast; and as James’ younger brother, Ty, said, “I’m getting tired of this old syrup. I want me some bacon sometime.” Beans are another bland food that J.
. .le also recognizes James and his mother’s dignity. The woman lets James take her trash to the corner in exchange for the food (“Ernest [her husband] has a bad cold and can’t go out there.”). However, when James lifts the cans, he can feel that they are empty. When James and his mom are leaving, she asks the old lady if she sells salt meat (seeing that the old woman’s house is also a store). The old lady does, and Mama asks for two bits worth. The old woman knows that this isn’t much, so she tries to give mama more than her money’s worth. Mama notices this, so the old lady, trying to restore mama’s pride, eventually gives her the correct amount of salt meat for her money. Throughout the story, James begins to pass his mother’s tests for being a man of the household. For example, James doesn’t show the pain of his toothache, trying to appear strong for his family. He’s also learning to hide his fear, which shows in the “bird event.” The biggest test of all perhaps is when James learns that dignity (“you’re not a bum, you’re a man”) is more important than the chill wind. The reader is left hoping with James that soon the sun may finally peak through the clouds in his life.
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