Burdens of Poverty
In the short story “The Sky is Gray”, Ernest J. Gaines shows the struggles, inflicted by poverty, in an eight-year-old boys life. This poor, Negro boy, James, lives with his mother and five other relatives while his father is away. The fact that his father is gone to war, his mother is a very proud woman, and James’ not wanting to be a financial burden on his mother, all take a toll in making James’ life tougher.
James’ father is drafted into the early part of World War 2. This leaves James’ mother to raise the children and support the entire family. In effect the family has very little money. The family doesn’t own a car and barely has money to ride the bus to town. At times it seems as if James is starving. His clothes don’t even keep him warm in the cold. Times are hard for the family when James’ father is away. James’ mother, Octavia, is a very proud woman. Her pride has an effect on James’ life. She does not accept any form of charity. An old woman offers Octavia and James some food, but Octavia declines the offer until James does some chores for the woman. James had to work instead of getting a free meal because his mother would not let him accept charity. Octavia tried to purchase some salt meat from the old woman but makes the woman cut the offered chunk of meat in half because Octavia thinks the portion of meat that the woman offers is an act of charity on the old woman’s behalf. Taking the portion of meat that the woman offered would have saved the family some money. Another example of how Octavia’s pride costs the family money occurs in the café. Octavia and James are walking in the cold waiting on James to go to the dentist. They step into the café to warm up. Octavia feels that she is obligated to make a purchase at the café because she is using their heat. This puts a dent in the family’s finances and makes life a little more rough for James.
The final toll, inflicted by poverty, in James’ life is the fact that James does not want to be a financial burden upon his mother. James has a severe toothache, but he does not tell his mother because he does not want to trouble her. This causes James much suffering. Octavia tells James they are going to town to get his tooth fixed, but James tells her his tooth does not hurt even though it is killing him. James is willing to walk instead of riding the bus to town in order to save money. He tells Octavia he is not hungry when he is starving. James would rather suffer than have his mother spend money on him because he knows they are poor. Poverty plays a big role in making James’ life tough. His father is gone to war, his mother is a proud woman, and James never wants to be a financial burden on the family. All the pains James endure play a role in making him a man. Poverty hinders James, but it does not break him.
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