John Powell

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John Powell
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Powell, John
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In The Reivers John Powell is "the head hostler" at the Priest livery stable (4). A hostler is someone who looks after horses. On his twenty-first birthday, as "ineffaceable proof that he was . . . a man" (6), he bought a pistol that he carries to work in his overalls. Having the gun in the stable is against the rules, but he and Maury Priest handle this "moral problem" (6) by ignoring the its existence, "as mutual gentlemen must and should" (8). The novel does not discuss how Powell's race - he is black - might figure in the way he defines 'manhood' or defies the rules. And while the rules in this case seem to be local to the livery stable, the Jim Crow South was anxious about the Second Amendment when it came to blacks arming themselves. One of the first gun registration laws in the U.S. was passed in Mississippi in 1906 - the year after the novel's events take place - according to commentators as a means of keeping track of who owned pistols. As part of the history of Powell's gun the narrative mentions "his wife" and "his father" (6).

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