In Ernest Gaines’ “The Sky is Gray,” I noticed a theme of pretending in many of the characters throughout the short story–narrated by James as “making ‘tend”. This theme is very noticeable with the main character, James, who “makes ‘tend” in many situations–first, he pretends to be okay when his tooth is aching; then, he pretends not to hear his mother and aunt talk about their budget; and near the end, he pretends not to be cold or hungry when he and his mother are shut out of the dentist’s office. James explains to the reader why he ignores his toothache by saying, “It’s been hurting me and hurting me close to a month now, but I never said it. I didn’t say it ’cause I didn’t want act like a crybaby, and ’cause I know we didn’t have enough money to go have it pulled” (84). Pretending in “The Sky is Gray” is thus an act brought on by expected roles of the characters–James needing to be a man and not a “crybaby”–and by the unchangeable realities that the characters exist in–in this case, the socioeconomic status of James’ family.
Further along, we also see other characters pretending for the same two reasons. After they leave the dentist’s office, James’ mother is whistled at by a man on the street, but she “makes ‘tend” not to see him and moves on. This instance draws on both reasons for pretending, since the expected nature of women at the time was to accept sexual harassment and not push back against predatory men, and since the political reality of the early 1900s would have punished Black women more harshly for breaking out of these norms and societal expectations. A similar moment happens when James and his mother enter the cafe and a man decides to play music from the jukebox. He is obviously attempting to get James’ mother’s attention, but she tells James that they should “keep [their] eyes in front where they belong,” pretending not to see the man (111). Once the man pushes James’ mother for a dance, we learn that pretending to ignore him was the right decision because he had ulterior motives–the woman working in the cafe even calls him a “pimp” (111).
The last major character who “makes ‘tend” in the story is the scholar in the dentist’s office who lectures the crowd about questioning God and religion. After the preacher hits him twice in the face and explains that he feels sorry for the boy, the scholar “makes ‘tend” not to hear the preacher, focusing on the book he is reading instead (98). Next, when the “old lady” is mocking the scholar for his statement that the wind is pink, he “makes ‘tend” not to hear her either (100). Unlike the other occurrences of “making ‘tend” for James and his mother, which feel forced due to circumstance, the pretending done by the scholar feels like a deliberate choice to show power or high ground over another person. The scholar could have continued to fight with the preacher or old lady about religion, but he chose to stop engaging with them at a certain point. Even James admired the scholar more than the preacher or any other character in the room, stating that “when I grow up I want be just like him” (100). I think it would be possible to connect this evidence about pretending to a larger argument about religion and secularism in “The Sky is Gray,” which I genuinely did not expect when I first started reading back on the “making ‘tend” quotes! I’m not sure where I would start in an argument, but I thought it was an interesting observation.