Grade Twelve: AP English
Over the next year or so, you're going to find out that Slagel's a pretty nice guy. For instance, he's giving you the summer off from your other classes. Science? Forget about it. And don't even think about math. Language? Give it a rest. You're welcome.
And as far as English, Slagel's even supplying this book you'll be reading over the summer. This makes up for his people bringing mongooses and mosquitoes to the islands. And the alphabet. We also brought the alphabet. Sorry about that.
Speaking of the alphabet, this book is written in it. It's entitled A Gathering of Old Men. It doesn’t sound particularly sexy (if it sounds sexy to you, you probably need some serious help), but it's actually a fascinating read. A group of elderly black men are sitting on a lanai in rural Louisiana. Each is holding a shotgun with a empty shell in it, and face down in a pool of blood in the front yard is a dead Cajun. And the dead Cajun's father is the leader of the local Ku Klux Klan. I sense trouble, and I'm talking bigger trouble than mosquitoes and mongooses. Mongeese. Mongeeses. Whatever.
In order to appreciate the nuances of the book, you'll need a passing understanding of some of the ethnic make-up of Louisiana. Here's a superficial overview:
Louisiana was populated originally by Native Americans, who weren't Native Americans until Europeans came over a couple of hundred years ago and called them that (first they called them "Indians" and took their land, but that's another story). Among the Europeans that came over were the French and Spanish. And these folks dragged along some African slaves, now called African-Americans, after being called a lot of other words I hesitate to use here. You get my meaning.
Added to the mix were displaced French-Canadians from Acadia (the eastern part of Canada). Chased out of their homeland, they traveled down the Mississippi River and ended up in Louisiana. They were called "Cajuns," which sort of sounds like "Acadians," I guess. Did I mention people drink a lot in Louisiana? Anyway, pretty much everyone (with the exception of the Cajuns) started falling in love and messing around with everyone else, and eventually they had a mixed race population, much like Hawaii. And much like Hawaii, people started judging each other based on the amount of blood they had from the different races. Those predominantly white folks who could trace their heritage back to the French immigrants and only slept with other whites were called White Creoles. The French who mixed with the slaves, descendants of slaves, and Native Americans became Black Creoles. And the Cajuns sort of watched it all with disgust. So here's what you have: White Creoles looking down their noses at everyone, Black Creoles sort of living in fear of the Cajuns and judging each other's "blackness," and the Cajuns staying separate and a little scary.
This, of course, is an oversimplification, and we know better than to make sweeping generalizations based on ethnicity. Still, it serves to help you understand the backdrop for A Gathering of Old Men. It's a fast read. It's told from multiple points of view. I'd read it carefully, I'd read it late in the summer, and I'd be ready to talk about it the first week of class. Until then, have a pleasant summer. Stay away from mosquitoes and mongooses. And avoid the alphabet as much as you can.