The Tragedy Of Brady Sims by Ernest J. GainesThe Tragedy Of Brady Sims by Ernest J. Gaines

The Tragedy Of Brady Sims

byErnest J. Gaines

Paperback | August 29, 2017

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Ernest J. Gaines's new novella revolves around a courthouse shooting that leads a young reporter to uncover the long story of race and power in his small town and the relationship between the white sheriff and the black man who "whipped children" to keep order.
    After Brady Sims pulls out a gun in a courtroom and shoots his own son, who has just been convicted of robbery and murder, he asks only to be allowed two hours before he'll give himself up to the sheriff. When the editor of the local newspaper asks his cub reporter to dig up a "human interest" story about Brady, he heads for the town's barbershop. It is the barbers and the regulars who hang out there who narrate with empathy, sadness, humor, and a profound understanding the life story of Brady Sims—an honorable, just, and unsparing man who with his tough love had been handed the task of keeping the black children of Bayonne, Louisiana in line to protect them from the unjust world in which they lived. And when his own son makes a fateful mistake, it is up to Brady to carry out the necessary reckoning. In the telling, we learn the story of a small southern town, divided by race, and the black community struggling to survive even as many of its inhabitants head off northwards during the Great Migration.
Ernest Gaines was born on a plantation in Pointe Coupee Parish near New Roads, Louisiana, which is the Bayonne of all his fictional works. He is writer-in-residence emeritus at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. In 1993 Gaines received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship for his lifetime achievements. In...
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Title:The Tragedy Of Brady SimsFormat:PaperbackDimensions:128 pages, 8 × 5.4 × 0.4 inPublished:August 29, 2017Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0525434461

ISBN - 13:9780525434467

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Chapter OneIt was over. We all got up to leave. Two deputies had the prisoner by the arms. I was sitting in back of the courtroom because I had been on another assignment and I had gotten there late. I was near the aisle when I heard someone called out loud and clear: “BOY.” I looked back over my shoulder and saw that the two deputies had stopped with their prisoner and were facing old Brady Sims. Next came the loudest sound that I had ever heard. I saw the prisoner fall back with blood splashing from his body, and both deputies let go of his arms at the same time. Brady Sims stood there in that old faded blue jumper, with the smoke still rising from the gun in his hand.Then came the screaming and scrambling to get out of the place or get down on the floor. The members of the jury who didn’t run out of the room got down behind their chairs. The judge went under his desk. The two deputies stood frozen, with their hands near their guns, but not on the guns. Brady, facing them—­his head as white as cotton is in September—­stood as straight and tall as a picket in a fence. I watched him, I watched them all, afraid to run, afraid to get down on the floor.“Tell Mapes give me two hours,” Brady said.“You don’t think you walking out of here, do you?” Claude said. He was the younger of the two deputies.Brady got his hat off the chair next to the one where he had been sitting. He adjusted it well on that pile of cotton.“I didn’t come here for no foolishness, boy,” he said to Claude. “Tell Mapes what I said,” he said to Russell, the older deputy.“Go on,” Russell said.“Go on, like hell go on,” Claude said.Then I heard that deafening sound again—­and the smoke rising up between the old man and the two deputies.“You old bastard, you,” Claude screamed. “You tried to kill me, you old bastard, you.”“I shot down in the floor that time,” Brady told him. “Don’t try it no more.”“Go on,” Russell said again.“You crazy?” Claude asked Russell.“Mapes’ll bring him in.”“Mapes put us in charge.”“Go on,” Russell told Brady.“You go’n take the blame for this,” Claude told Russell. “By God, you go’n take all the blame for this.”Keeping his eyes on the deputies, old Brady backed his way down the aisle. The two deputies watched him, but did not move. The rest of the people lay quietly on the floor. I watched the old man back closer and closer to where I stood. Then we were facing each other, three or four feet apart. I had known him all my life, but this was as close as I had ever been to him. His face was the color of dark worn leather, and looked just as tough. His mustache and beard were the same color as the hair on his head—­snow-­white. He had a large hawkish nose, thin lips, and the whites of his eyes were yellow. But those same eyes looked tired and weak.He continued to stare at me, as if he wanted me to understand what he had done, or why he had done it. But at that moment I couldn’t even think, I was barely able to breathe. Still, I couldn’t look away.When he saw no answers in my face, he looked again at the deputies and slowly backed out of the courtroom, with the big gun still in his hand, pointing at nothing.I took in a deep breath and tapped my chest a couple times to make sure that I was all right, then I went outside.I saw some of the people who had been inside the courtroom were now standing out on the lawn. Others from nearby stores and shops had joined them. Now, we all watched Brady go to his truck—­the big pistol still hanging from his hand. He had to jerk twice on the truck door to get it open. Then he had to back up and go forward twice before he had the old blue pickup straightened out. He drove slowly out of town.The nearest public telephone was in the drugstore across the street. I ran over there and called the paper. Velma, the secretary, answered. I told her I wanted to speak to Cunningham. Quick. I told him what had happened. He told me to stay there until he got there, and to get everything down that I could. I ran back to the courtroom. The people had gotten up off the floor. The jury members who were left sat in their respective chairs. The judge was sitting at his desk, his hands clasped together as he looked back over the courtroom where a few of the spectators were sitting. The two deputies were standing over the body of the prisoner. Someone had spread a raincoat over the body. Blood flowed from under the raincoat toward the jury box.Then we heard Mapes. No, we heard the car coming in fast, then screeching to a dead stop in Mapes’s parking space. We heard the car door slam and some loud cussing, then he was inside, pushing those two hundred and sixty-­nine and a half pounds of fury (he had weighed three hundred pounds a year ago, but his doctor had put him on a strict diet, and he had lost thirty and a half pounds, and he was proud of it, and wanted you to know it). Now he was huffing and puffing and pushing all that weight up the aisle toward us. He looked at his two deputies like he wanted to strangle both of them, then he leaned over and pulled back the raincoat for a second, and flung it back with the same fury. Now he was looking at Russell.“Out of nowhere—­BOOM,” Russell said.Mapes stared at him with those steel-­gray eyes.“Out of nowhere—­boom? I’m supposed to tell Victor Jarreau—­out of nowhere—­boom?”“Nobody saw it coming,” Russell said. “Nobody expected anything like that. He was sitting over there like he’s been doing the last two days. Stood up, hollered at the boy, and shot him. What else can I say?”“You can say you tried to stop him.”“Stop him? Stop him how? Nobody knew what happened ’til it was over.”“He’s right,” Judge Reynolds said. “I’ve observed him in that same chair for the last two days. I saw no warning that—­”“You’re not paid to see men carrying guns, he is,” Mapes said. “Well?”“What more can I say, Mapes?”“What more can you say; what more can you say? You can tell Victor Jarreau how this arthritic old man had time to pull out a gun from—­I don’t know where—­time to holler to the boy, time to shoot—­while you and this, this thing over here, had your minds somewhere else. Tell him that.”“Mapes,” Judge Reynolds said. “I’ve been sitting here waiting to talk to you, because I thought you could be sensible. But I see it was just a waste of my time. He could do no more to stop Brady from killing that boy than you could have stopped him from wherever you were. Ladies and gentlemen, excuse me, I’ll be in my chambers.”The judge left. Mapes was looking at Russell.“He wants two hours,” Russell said.Mapes was still looking at him.“Then come and get him,” Russell said.Mapes didn’t say anything, but it seemed like those two hundred and sixty-­nine and a half pounds of fury wanted to explode.“Old bastard shot at me,” Claude said, out of the quietness.Mapes heard him, but he went on looking at Russell. Russell had been around long enough to handle situations like these.“Luckily, the old bastard missed,” Claude said, speaking again.Mapes looked at him this time. He looked at him up and down. He looked at him well.“He didn’t miss,” Mapes said. “He don’t miss what he shoots at. I’ve hunted with him enough times to know that he never misses what he shoots at.” He turned back to Russell. “Call Herman. Tell him come pick this up. Think you can remember that much?”Russell didn’t answer. Mapes looked down at the raincoat.“He can have his two hours, then I’ll get him.”“Want me to go with you?” Claude asked.“No,” Mapes said. “You’ve already worked too hard for one day.”“I’d like to be the one to put the cuffs on him, myself,” Claude said.“You can go and arrest him.”“No. Old bastard liable to shoot at me again, and I don’t want to have to kill him.”Mapes grunted to himself, then he turned to the jury box where the people sat waiting.Mr. A. Paul sat in jury chair number eleven. He was the only black member of the jury, a little baldhead man who was a deacon in his church and lived on the same street as I did in Bayonne. He wiped his head with a pocket-­handkerchief and stared down at the floor. The white jury members were all looking at Mapes.“Every last one of you, come to my office,” Mapes told them.“Half of them have already gone,” Russell said.“Find them, round them up, and bring them to my office,” Mapes said. He turned to me. “Were you there?”“Yes, sir, but I didn’t see anything, Sheriff.”

Bookclub Guide

US 1.  What does the conversation between Ambrose Cunningham and Louis Guerin convey about editor’s vs. the reporter’s understanding and opinion of the racial undercurrents that shape interactions in Bayonne (p. 11)? What does Cunningham’s reaction to the sheriff’s decision to let Sims remain free show about his understanding of how things work in the town (p. 11)?   2.  Discuss the various contradictory emotions behind Sheriff Mapes’s response to the events at the courthouse. How do they reflect and amplify the role of personal history in the town’s social structure (pp. 18–20)?   3.  Guerin begins his investigation by talking to the only black member of the jury, Mr. A. Paul (pp. 14–16). How would you characterize the way Mr. Paul is drawn? What is Gaines’s intent in presenting this portrait of an elderly African American?   4.  “Since the turn of the nineteenth century, beauty salons and barbershops have served as special places among African Americans. . . . Scholars often cite these sites as ‘sanctuaries’ for black people” (The National Museum of African American History and Culture). In what ways does Lucas Felix’s embody the timeless cultural and social functions of the local barbershop (pp. 22-23)? Can you think of other works of literature or movies that feature beauty salons or barbershops as a central part of an African American community?   5.  What does the way the men treat Guerin show about the group dynamics at the barbershop (pp. 23–24)? What role does the stranger (“the man with the fresh haircut,” p. 32) play in bringing to light the close ties among others? What other functions does he serve as the novel unfolds?   6.    Frank Jamison calls Sims “the man who whipped children to keep them out of Angola” (p. 25) and notes that “some of the old people would rather see their children dead than to go to Angola” (p. 26). Can you understand this point of view? Discuss the reasons the preacher and the members of the church offer for giving Sims the job of disciplining troublesome kids (p. 38). Is there a valid argument that the threat of incarceration (especially in a notorious prison like Angola) calls for extreme preventative actions on the part of the community?   7.    What do the facts about Sims’s life with Eula and their children (pp. 47–53) and the story of his marriage to Betty Mae and relationship with Jean-Pierre (pp. 58–60) reveal about his character and the emotions that drive him? Despite the fraught circumstances, are there aspects of Sims’s behavior that make him likable or sympathetic?   8.    Jamison says, “Brady was getting older, getting older, and he moved out of the quarter back into the field . . . he just wanted to get away from those ‘quarter niggers’” (pp. 62–63). Discuss persistent racial biases as well as the specific events behind Sims’s decision to move to an isolated farmhouse. Does his new life alter the way he sees himself and is seen by others?   9.   Raised in California, Jean-Pierre returns to Louisiana and his father’s house. What does his approach to finding work and the reactions he gets around town show about generational and regional differences in mid-twentieh-century America (pp. 64–76)? Why does Sims insist that Jean-Pierre leave his house and move into town?   10.   What does the introduction of the men from California looking for “Louisiana Roy” add to the novel? How do the descriptions of the men in the car, the “sissies” they encounter, and the ins-and-outs of their search of the area differ in tone and mood from the earlier vignettes (pp. 77–85)?   11.   In what ways does the bank robbery serve as a fitting climax to Jean-Pierre’s naïve and ill-conceived return to Louisiana?   12.    As he goes to arrest Sims for shooting Jean-Pierre, Mapes says, “Why? Why? Why did you do it? Hell, I know why. I damned well know why” (p. 100). Did your feelings about the murder of Jean-Pierre change over the course of the novel as you learned more about Brady Sims and the circumstances of his life?   13.    Gaines shifts the point of view of the story to Sheriff Mapes (pp. 99–107). Do Mapes’s musings about the past and the present and about his personal friendship with Sims cast new light on both men and on the community in general? Does the final scene between Mapes and Sims ring true?   14.   The impact of World War II and the Great Migration on the African American community is a running topic of discussion at the barbershop. What insights do the differing points of view presented by Frank Jamison and Joe Celestin offer into the changes that occurred in both the South and the North (p. 33)? To what extent do their views represent an on-going debate about the advantages and the disadvantages of city life and small-town life?   15.   In his award-winning novel, A Lesson Before Dying, Gaines created a cast of strong women. The characters and voices in The Tragedy of Brady Sims are all male. How does this affect your perspective on the social structures and relationships in the town? In what ways does the switching back and forth among narrative voices, as well as the frequent use of flashbacks, enrich the reading experience?   16.   Does the novel add to, change, or contradict your understanding of the African American community in the late 1940s and early ’50s? What does it expose about the entrenched traditions that protect and perpetuate an inherently unjust society? 

Editorial Reviews

“A taut and searing tale about race and small-town justice. . . . The history the men recount is, indeed, riveting in its insights into how racism harms everyone, crystallized in Mapes’ heartbroken tribute to his friend: ‘Hell of a man, that Brady Sims.’ Gaines tells a hell of a story.”  —Donna Seaman, Booklist