The Sky is Gray
Questions to Consider:
- Would “The Big Gray Sky” or “A Little Southern Town” been a title for the story?
- Scholars argue that the stories in Bloodline show the growth towards, and constraints on, manhood for the characters. How does James in “The Sky in Gray” precede towards manhood? How is he constrained in that movement?
- While in the dentist’s waiting room, James encounters two opposing views on what African Americans should do to combat racism. The student and the preacher argue, and James says he wants to be like the student. Why does he say this?
- Much of Gaines’ work appears to dread the encroachment of modernity on a rural location. Do you see any comment on this in “The Sky is Gray?” Does the story accept the coming of modernity?
- Why does James’ mother refuse the extra salt pork at the end of the story? What lesson is she trying to teach James?
- The first few drafts of “The Sky is Gray” ended with “‘You not a bum,’ she says.” The final version ends with “‘You not a bum,’ she says. ‘You a man.’” How does the addition or subtraction of the last line affect the story’s meaning?
- Have students write down questions they have either about the story or Ernest Gaines then let them discuss their questions with one or two other students before having a class discussion.
- Have students write a letter to their younger self describing what it means to "grow up."
- Have students write about a personal experience where they "grew up."
- Have students research and present on Jim Crow and segregation in the South during the time that the story takes place. Have them discuss how Octavia and James navigate this landscape throughout the story. The quote on below can serve as starting point.
- Have students discuss the differences between Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X during the 1960s. Have them examine whether or not the preacher and the student that James and Octavia encounter in the dentist's office can be representations of either man.
- Have students write about the role that language plays in their lives. Think about the scene where the student claims the grass is not green.
Interview with Gaines on Bloodline
[T]here's the progression in ages as well as experiences [in Bloodline]. A six year old [in "A Long Day in November"] would not experience what Procter [in "Three Men"], the eighteen or nineteen year old would experience. The six year old child-all his action is in the quarters; the eight year old child [James in "The Sky is Gray"] moves out of the quarters, and he goes into a small Southern town, which gives him a feeling of much of what a small Southern town would be like. He meets whites, he finds there are certain areas where you cannot go. In the plantation, in the quarters, he could go almost anywhere; everybody knows him, so he can move around; that's his home, that's everything. Then he moves out of that, just like the six year old boy, who doesn't want to come out from under the covers when the mother's trying to get him out because he knows it's cold out there. The eight year old kid begins to feel all these things when he moves out and stands on the road to catch the bus going to Bayonne Institute. He has to walk to the back of the bus and all that sort of thing-there's a little sign. So he sees so much more than the six year old child can see. And in "Three Men," there's a murder; one has committed a murder. So that gets you into different ex-periences. When one takes a life, he's different from any man who's never taken a life. (New Orleans Review 3.4, 342)