Magazine article Humanities

Making a Difference: Glimpses of Louisiana

Magazine article Humanities

Making a Difference: Glimpses of Louisiana

Article excerpt

Drawing on the images, cadences, and sentiments of his youth, Ernest J. Gaines writes novels that evoke the particulars and the feel of small-town southern Louisiana in the early part of the twentieth entury. He is renowned for his tales about Bayonne, Louisiana, based on Pointe Coupee Parish, where he spent his childhood and early adolescence.

"The humanities are all about criticizing man, but at the same time you say what is good in him. It's like a mirror," says Gaines. "The artist tries to show the truth. It's not always a beautiful picture. The humanities are about saying, what can we do to improve it?"

Though his works are based on historical fact, and sometimes specific circumstances like the crime that serves as the centerpiece of the book A Gathering of Old Men, Gaines does not associate himself with historians. He says, "History is interpreted by the winners." Pointing out that historians often owe their mindset to preexisting schools of political thought, he adds, "An artist does not owe anyone anything, if he is honest. He's got to do his work as best he can."

When researching The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Gaines aimed to create an accurate historical environment for the character of a centenarian ex-slave. He spoke with left-wing and right-wing historians, with Confederacy and Union experts, and put it all in the mouth of Miss Jane Pittman, "an intelligent character." It is Gaines's ability to sift through contrasting viewpoints that gives Miss Pittman her credibility, as much as the fact that her character is based on the aunt who raised Gaines, Augusteen Jefferson. …

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