The story "The Sky Is Gray" by Ernest J. Gaines takes place during a cold winter in the town of Bayonne,
Louisiana. The time is around 1942 when millions of men were being drafted into World War II. James is a
young black boy who must take charge of his family while his father is away in the army. James character
begins learning how to become the man of the family during these trying times. He also discovered that
compassion was not necessarily race oriented. In so doing James learned to stand up for his honor and
pride. Preparation for manhood is not a written lesson but a lesson of life.
The first lesson James learned was that although animals are cute and playful they are an important source
for food. Although James was used to hunting animals he was not used to killing the small redbirds he and
Ty played with and set free. This became necessary when the redbirds were the only source of food for the
family. James then understood why he forced to kill the redbirds "they had to be somebody to carry on. I
didn't know it then, but I know it now" (414). The killing was not just for food but as a way to provide for
his family.
What is apparent to James is that being black has many drawbacks and influences. Even the simple
everyday tasks of life are determined by his race, from where he sits in the bus to what order he is taken in
a dentist office "-they take you when they want to. If you was white, that's something else; but we the
wrong color."(421). Although what James did learn was that color did not influence compassion. This was
accomplished during their journey to find safety and warmth with their kind. James and his mother walked
a mile in cold and sleet to the black section of Bayonne thinking they would get fair treatment. Upon
arriving to the café they were confronted with the rudeness of a black man. After such a long hard walk to
be with their own, they left without the comfort they so desperately needed.
True compassion was found by James and his mother, not in the black section nor by black people,
but by an old white couple. They owned a small store and watched as James and his mother walked by. The
lady offered food in exchange for work. The work was by no means difficult but more a way to maintain
self worth and pride. Pride was a very important part of James and his mothers life. His mother would
never accept handouts and pity, not because they did not need it but because she did not want James to
accept what he did not earn.
James found that even though he was 8 years old, he must still prepare for what life was about.
The killing of wildlife for food, the value of money, the acceptance of people were all things that James
needed to know about. James learned to accept through merit not through charity. He also learned to not
judge people by their color and more importantly to not allow himself to be judged because of his color.