Of Love and Dust (Gaines)

Of Love and Dust 
Ernest J. Gaines, 1967
Knopf Doubleday
288 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780679752486

Of Love and Dust has power and fascination. It zeros in on an explosion in the making between two men, one black and one white, trapped in the vise of Southern back country prejudice.

When young Marcus is bonded out of jail, he is sent to the Hebert Plantation to work in the fields. He treats Sidney Bonbon, the Cajun overseer, with contempt and Bonbon retaliates by working him nearly to death. Marcus decides to take his revenge. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—January 15, 1933
Where—Pointe Coupee, Louisiana, USA
Education—B.A., San Francisco State University; fellowiship
   to Stanford University
Awards—Wallace Stegner Fellow, 1957; National Endowment
   for the Arts grant, 1967; Dos Passos Prize, 1993; MacArthur
   Foundation fellow, 1993; National Book Critics Award, 1993;
   National Humanities Medal, 2000; he American Academy of
   Arts and Letters, 2000; Chevalier, Order of Arts and Letters 
   (France), 2000.
Currently—lives in San Francisco and Oscar, Louisiana

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 addition to The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Mr. Gaines is also the author of A Lesson Before Dying, A Gathering of Old Men, Bloodline, and Of Love and Dust.

In 1996 he was named a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, one of France’s highest decorations. He and his wife, Dianne, live in Oscar, Louisiana. (From Wikipedia.)

Book Reviews
(Books prior to the Internet have few, if any, mainstream press reviews online. See Amazon and Barnes & Noble for helpful reviews.)

Ernest J. Gaines has set out to tell us a familar story and told it well—the tragedy of Mracus, a young Louisian Negro rebel brave and desperate enough to pit his life againsst the Olympus of the Southern power structure.... [I]n general, the false notes are few. Aside from occasional technical awkwardness, the writing is clean, and Mr. Gaines paints some vivid scenes and fine portraits.... Yet despite these qualities, Mr. Gaines's second novel is still an "undergraduate" work, in which the author trusts craft formula too much, himself too little. Perhaps he will dig the same ground a little deeper next time and turn up a little more of himself—and me.
Robert Granat - New York Times (1967)

Discussion Questions
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Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Of Love and Dust:

1. Describe the character of Marcus. What do you find admirable in him...as well as troubling? Does he ever show remorse for his actions? Does he gain in stature as the story progresses...or the opposite?

2. What are conditions like on the Herbert plantation? How do you explain BonBon, the overseer's treatment of Marcus? In what way is Marcus's presence there a threat?

3. Discuss BonBon's statement: "Me and you—what is we? We little people.... They make us do what they want us to do, and they don't tell us nothing. We don't have nothing to say 'bout it, do we?" How does Marcus respond to that sense of powerlessness?

4. Why might Gaines have chosen Jim to narrate the story? What do you think of him?

5. Was the ending of this book inevitable—a working out of fate as in Greek tragedy? Is Marcus a tragic hero, punished by the gods of Olympus because of his hubris, his insistence on challenging the powers that be?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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