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The Sky is Gray

The book, “The Sky is Gray” written by Ernest Gaines, is the story of young James and his mother, Octavia, and their trip into town to see a dentist.  The trip is as much insightful to James as it is discriminatory and the lessons he learns from this one trip will last a lifetime.  Octavia, a proud woman, teaches James certain examples through her own actions and words.  Her main objective to to portray to young James  that dignity transcends poverty.

The Sky is Gray

In the beginning of the book, the author’s depiction of life in the outlying lands of Louisiana as a field hand has many instances of these poor individuals clutching to the one thing they can control, and that is their dignity.  When Octavia brings the two bird traps of James’ with a bird in each one, she proceeds to teach James how he must consider them as food for their table and nothing else.  While her behavior can be perceived as somewhat harsh, it is through her dignified manner that we realize her actions are out of necessity and not malice.  It is her desire to portray strength of character to her children in the absence of their father who is away at war.

When Octavia makes the decision to take James to the dentist in town, he does not want to go.  This may be out of fear of the pain associated with the dentist or just fear of journeying into town itself.  Nonetheless, Octavia’s mind is made up, and together they ready themselves for town the following morning.  Another show of Octavia’s dignity is when she counts out her money for the trip.  She does not scowl at what little she has left, but instead she is proud of her earnings, as little as they might be. 

When Octavia and James arrive at the dentist’s office they find it somewhat crowded.  Hoping to be seen in a timely manner so that they can return to the fields and work in the afternoon, Octavia and James take a seat and await their turn to see the dentist.  The encounter in the waiting room between the preacher and the student is very thought provoking for young James.  His mother however, sits quietly in her dignified manner, and chooses not to participate in foolish conversations.

The dentist’s nurse relays to everyone still waiting to be seen that he will see no one until later that afternoon.  Octavia’s pride seeks some explanation from the nurse, explaining their need to get back to work.  In spite of the nurse’s rudeness and condescending behavior, Octavia ushers James out in her usual reserved fashion, which confirms the reader that dignity has no social class.

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