A Lesson Before Dying
Symbolzm in A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines
A delightful novel diverts and amuses the reader wanting them read more and more till they know each and every detail in the book. A Lesson Before Dying is a tale set in the town of Bayonne Louisiana in the late 1940s. A Lesson Before Dying is a heartwarming tale of injustice acceptance and salvation. A Lesson Before Dying is written by a stupendous novelist named earnest J. Gaines and is one of those terrific and outgoing novels. Not only does Gaines simply enlighten the reader but he moreover entertains his effective storytelling. His usage of symbolism voice and stylistic devices keeps the reader fascinated to the very last page.
Firstly, Gaines is effective as a storyteller because of his use of symbolism in A Lesson Before Dying. The first symbol that is very appealing in A Lesson Before Dying is the hog. During the hearing in court for the robbery and the first- degree murder, Jefferson’s lawyer tries to prove him innocent by dehumanizing and criticizing his intelligence. Jefferson’s lawyer does this by arguing that he is incapable of murder because he does not have, modicum of intelligence (Gaines, 9). Although it is very disrespectful to do so, Jefferson’s lawyer compares him to a hog, Why, I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this (Gaines 10). This statement.
Another symbol that appears in this story is about food. The narrative of food was used as a way of conveying love and attachment by the author. In the novel, when Grant discusses with his aunt about eating at town, he states, Nothing could have hurt her more when I said I was not going to eat her food (Gaines, 21). Moreover, while Jefferson is imprisoned, Miss Emma fetches his desired choice of cooking so that she can convey and express the kindness and affection towards him. The refusal to eat by Jefferson really hurt Miss Emma’s feelings, and it was very agonizing for her to hear that from him, even after she was trying to do something positive. At one point, Grant tells Jefferson to eat for Miss Emma, to prove that he still admires her. Along with the symbolization of love, food also signifies the mercifulness and sympathy portrayed by Jefferson. When he gets called a hog, it makes him sensitive, and he is a little setback by it, even declining to eat. In the novel, he rejects the offer for food and tells them the food is for them, That’s for Youmans (Gaines 67). With the realization of himself and the moral outlook of his sympathetic side, he finally agrees to eat.
The last symbol in this story is connected to the notebook Grant gives Jefferson after numerous efforts to achieve some type of communication grounds by Miss Emma, Grant, and the Reverend Ambrose. He writes all his views and feelings and ponders the thought of life’s existence and the demise of the world. At one point, during his reflection in his notebook to Grant, he states, it look like the lord just work for white folks (Gaines, 186). Jefferson talks about the prejudice, but also recognizes his purpose in life and the consensus of his new found of pride. The notebook also illustrates the union and friendship established with Grant and Jefferson. By writing to Grant, Jefferson ultimately undertook Grant’s counseling and support by showing that in his brief time as friends, he truly transformed. These three instances used by Gaines through the narrative show the effective use of symbols that construct the story.
Furthermore, Gaines is a compelling narrator with a lot of consideration to the utilization of his voice. Gaines uses voice through the way he composes. The use of slang in a specific time in history instead of proper English pronunciation, Gaines precisely conveys how the individuals talk, I didn’t raise no hog, and I don’t want no hog to go set in that chair. I want a man to go set in that chair. Mr. Henri (Gaines, 17). Another way Gaines is a compelling storyteller is due to the voice utilized as a casual voice. The complete twenty-ninth chapter is told through Jefferson’s journal, corresponding to Grant, to pass on the times before Jefferson’s demise. Because of these methods of storytelling by Gaines, it showed his effective utilization of mixed and clever use of speech methods in his writing.
The last method Grant uses to successfully portray the narrative is the use of different figure of speeches such as the use of metaphors, often to provide emphasis, expression, and clarity to the aspect of the story. The first method utilized is reiteration, as such during the first meeting between Grant and Jefferson, he says, You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? his eyes said. They were big brown eyes, the whites too reddish. His eyes mocked me. They were big brown eyes, the whites too reddish (Gaines, 59). The final use of figurative speech is paradox. When Grant portrays Jefferson’s tribunal. he says, I was not there, yet I was there (Gaines, 7). Given the circumstances, Gaines utilizes numerous proficient complex gadgets to express his story in a viable way.
To sum up, Gaines adeptness to successfully write a narrative through symbolism, voice and other figurative speech devices shaped it into an inspiring and touching story. The narrative of A Lesson Before Dying is an expressive and informative interpretation of Gaines mind that will intrigue and move any reader.
Ernest J. Gaines’ Representation of the Inevitability of Change As Illustrated In His Book, A Lesson before Dying
Change is a part of life, everyone has to undergo it. From infant, to child, to teen, to adult and from these stages we become more mature as time goes on. Some never do learn important lessons, and most never get the chance as in order to mature, one needs to experience an ordeal. In the novel, A Lesson Before Dying, the most important thing one could learn is that you can never stop changing and growing as a person. The most important lesson one could learn before dying is that as humans we have the capacity to change, to learn, to grow, and to view things differently.
Jefferson’s character arguably embodied the most “change” anyone underwent in the novel, staying true to the important lesson we all must lean before we die. Jefferson’s sentence is warranted because he is not seen as a human being. The ideal of “[Jefferson]’s a hog” is used to dehumanize him, making it easier to believe he isn’t worth the execution but simultaneously making it easier to accept his death. The sheriff even adopts this when he says to Grant: “rather see a contented hog go to that chair than an aggravated hog.” (41, Gaines). The sheriff thinks that “there ain’t a thing you can put in that skull that ain’t there already.”(41, Gaines). This white-dominated society that sentences Jefferson to die feels that individuals like him aren’t capable of higher thought, and aren’t capable of change. Though, Jefferson changes because of Grant’s help and instruction. What Grant teaches him is what helps give him a larger awareness of the world and his place in it. Before Grant’s “teachings”, Jefferson believed his identity was static and he could not change from the expectations placed on him as a black man in that society. This can be seen in his criminal life as Jefferson was not actively assaulting/robbing the store. He did not plan the crime, and by going along with it, it showed he believed he was incapable of change and that he was a criminal through and through. ‘The human ability to grow and “be a man” is something that Grant goes over in his lessons: “And that’s all we are, Jefferson, all of us on this earth, a piece of drifting wood, until we—each one of us, individually—decide to become something else.”’ (158, Gaines). Jefferson learns that he can change and he learns of his own humanity. Jefferson shows this when he writes that “Man walk on two foots; hogs on four hoofs.” (180, Gaines). It is what he reads that enable Grant to understand Jefferson’s emotions and ideas at the time: “tell them im strong tell them im a man good by mr wigin.” (190, Gaines). By requesting Paul to pass along this message, Jefferson has embodied the change of “becoming a man”, which is confirmed when Paul says that “Jefferson was the strongest man in that crowded room.” Moreover, Jefferson’s final words to Grant heavily emphasized the importance that the community of their town knew he died as a man. He knows that the students, the rest of the black community, and his family need to realize he faced his death as more than just what the white man named him.
Grant is another example of a character who recognized the importance of this lesson. He learns through Jefferson that humans have the ability to change their ways and thus the way we perceive them. After giving a speech to Jefferson on what a hero is and how HE (Jefferson) could be one, Grant says: “He looked at me in great pain. He may not have understood, but something was touched, something deep down in him—because he was still crying. I cry, not from reaching any conclusion by reasoning, but because, lowly as I am, I am still part of the whole. Is that what he was thinking as he looked at me crying?” (158, Gaines), showing that Jefferson recognized he could be more than just a hog, and that before death, he could change to be better than the white men that condemned him. Grant, a cynical, pessimistic man had gone from referring to Jefferson as a lost cause, to believing in him with all his heart: “My faith is in you, Jefferson.” (199, Gaines). Now that he has seen the change he can make in one person, he is able to see that it could be possible, after all, to make a difference for the school children he is teaching. Against his own self-doubt or disbelief, just as he managed to help Jefferson, he might be able to help some of those students. Grant shed some of his cynicism, gaining a stronger connection to his community, to the family he once resented, all because of Jefferson and his example. Grant himself had also undergone his own change, unbeknownst to him and he learned an important lesson as well. The lesson that they both learn is the capacity of human growth.
Paul, the deputy sheriff, didn’t undergo any big metamorphosis/changes over the course of the novel, but, he was an active participant in the change and growth of Jefferson. He believed in Jefferson’s ability to “become a man” and supported Grant’s endeavors all the way. He offered to bring a radio in to distract Jefferson from his fate, as well as talk to Grant about his status: “Paul wanted to know how everything had gone between Jefferson and me, and I told him it was better than ever. He looked at me as if he felt I was making this all up, but I could see in his face that he wanted to believe it” (141, Gaines). He was genuinely interested in the development of Jefferson as he was concerned for him; Paul was the only white character to truly acknowledge the wrongness of the situation and try to help in any way he could. He was the messenger for the martyr that was Jefferson, sending his message on to Grant by saying “He was the strongest man in that crowded room, Grant Wiggins,” Paul said, staring at me and speaking louder than was necessary. “He was, he was. I’m not saying this to make you feel good, I’m not saying this to ease your pain. Ask that preacher, ask Harry Williams. He was the strongest man there. We all stood jammed together, no more than six, eight feet away from that chair. We all had each other to lean on. When Vincent asked him if he had any last words, he looked at the preacher and said, ‘Tell Nannan I walked.’ And straight he walked, Grant Wiggins. Straight he walked. I’m a witness. Straight he walked.” (202, Gaines). Jefferson, in his last moments, died a man and Paul was the evidence that was true; he (Paul), a white man-same as the men who put Jefferson in this situation-was one of the last people to witness the dying wish of a man who learned to walk on his own two feet once more.
Everyone undergoes change, it is a fact of life; it occurs at anytime and can be jarring or it could be expected and welcomed. Jefferson, Grant Wiggins, and Paul Bonin have all witnessed or experienced the most important thing one could learn in their lifetime. They have all had a part in that growth they had each undergone in the short time they had together. While Jefferson and Grant had affected each other more, it is undeniable Paul had been affected greatly as well. In conclusion, the greatest lesson anyone could learn before dying is the human capacity for growth.
A Look At The Ineffectiveness Of High Education As Portrayed By Ernest J. Gaines In A Lesson Before Dying And Mary Shelley’s, Frankenstein
Why does education exist? Education is a tool, essential to bettering mankind. It can be applicable in endless ways. However education alone does not guarantee yield. Grant, the protagonist from the novel A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J Gaines is displeased with his life because his high education is going to waste. When Jefferson is given the death penalty, Grant finds it preposterous that the black community wants him to not only make Jefferson a man. As the story unfolds, their meetings prove to teach lessons to not only Jefferson, but Grant as well. In comparison, the arrogant Victor Frankenstein of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein has a prestigious education, yet is not able to understand the importance of collaboration more than his Creation. Rather, Robert Walton serves as a balanced medium between education and being able to interact with others to make it useful. As any amount of education is a stepping-stone to intellect, the inclusion of emotional interaction heightens intellect, making it useful to the individual and humanity.
To begin with, Grant was not able to utilize his education to truly help others until he himself understood the necessity of compassion. For example, Grant hates teaching to the point where he even brutally explains in from of his students including Jefferson’s cousin how Jefferson is labeled as a hog and sentenced to death without “[apologizing] for what [he] said, [or showing] any sympathy for her crying” (Gaines 40). This clearly characterizes Grant as a harsh teacher who has no compassion. Due to both his lack of passion in teaching and self-adulation of high education, Grant cannot effectively teach the children anything because he feels the children cannot comprehend him and the teaching is useless to them anyway. Therefore his intellect is useless. However after several interactions with Jefferson, Grant becomes emotionally attached. Grant even speaks up against Reverend Ambrose to emphasize that “[Jefferson] needs that radio, and he wants it. He wants something of his own before he dies” (Gaines 182). The radio is a symbol for a beacon that mentally motivates Jefferson to live his life out to the death. This and the interactions with Jefferson show that Grant finally sees the necessity of compassion. Only after learning this does he succeed in making Jefferson “the strongest man in that crowded room” ( Gaines 253). This hyperbole grabs the essence of how striking Jefferson’s courage was viewed by the others. Hence, one can only use education to help others when motivated by a passion.
Additionally, Jefferson uses the lessons he gains from the interactions with Grant to rise well above his meager education to prove himself a man, brave in the face of death. For example, when Grant explains to Jefferson how to chip away at the myth, “he may have not understood, but something was touched, something deep down in him – because he was still crying” (Gaines 193). This paradox characterizes Jefferson as a person who although is uneducated, can feel the emotions and meanings behind Grant’s lesson. Grant’s lesson of breaking the myth showed Jefferson the magnanimity of what he could accomplish by being a man and standing at his death. The imagery of Jefferson continuously crying shows how affected Jefferson was, emphasizing the interaction between the two characters. Jefferson is able to use this wisdom to believe give himself pride and bravery. Furthermore, after Jefferson’s death, Grant “went up to the desk and turned to face them. [He] was crying” (Gaines 256). In comparison of Grant’s behavior in school from the beginning of the novel where he was strict to the end where he shows emotion, sympathy, and compassion in front of the student, it is evident that Jefferson was able to spread the intellect he had and positively influence others even without a fancy education.
In contrast, despite Frankenstein’s prestigious education, his overwhelming hubris blinds him from seeing the benefits of collaboration, something even his Creation could see. To begin with, reaching a higher education than any other scholar, it is not surprising that Victor’s imagination was too exalted to “permit [him from doubting his] ability to give life to an animal as complex and wonderful as man (Shelly 48). Victor’s arrogance leads him to choose isolation because he does not deem any others worthy. This backfired when his Creation was a hideous creature that could be loved by no one. This shows how if he collaborated with other great minds, Victor could have achieved greatness and greatly aided humanity. On the other hand, the Creation “found that people possessed a method of communicating their experience and feelings to one another by articulate sounds… and [he] ardently desired to become acquainted with it” (Shelly 100). The Creation’s desire to communicate with others to escape isolation clearly illustrates how even the Creation recognized the importance of companionship. It is ironic how Frankenstein, even with his education, cannot grasp the importance of collaboration through his death, showing education is nothing if one cannot use it to help oneself or humanity.
Lastly, by cooperating with his own crew, Robert Walton realizes that sacrifice of scientific knowledge is trivial to the amount of wisdom that comes with acquiring common sense. Consider how he obliged to his crew’s request that “if the vessel should be freed [he] would instantly direct [his] course southwards” (Shelly 189). This shows Robert collaborating and interacting with his crew to come to a consensus to abandon the journey. Unlike Victor, Robert actually listens to others and considers their opinions. This allows him to re-evaluate his plans to weigh which options are more beneficial to himself, and the others. Robert considers the whole team and “[consents] to return if [they] are not destroyed” (Shelly 189). This shows that Robert values life more than new discoveries. Collaboration was a vital role for in showing Robert common sense. Common sense can also be viewed as education that proved beneficial to both Robert and his crew, showing that listening to others can guide one to make a smart decision.
Intellect is not just a reflection of one’s education; it is a depiction of what one can do with the education one has. Jefferson and the Creature clearly show how even small amounts of education can make a wave. On the contrary Grant and Frankenstein exemplify how complex education will not render beneficial outcome without deep, emotional understandings and collaborations with others. Therefore it is important to understand that education may allow one to become larger than life, but only when used synergistically with other factors such as collaboration and companionship that make it useful in aiding individuals and humanity.
Analysis of a Lesson before Dying, By Ernest Gaines
Who is Learning a Lesson?
When first starting to read the novel, A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines, the reader can predict that the person who is going to be learning a lesson before dying is going to be Jefferson because he is the one convicted for a robbery and murder he did not commit, and is set for the death penalty. Jefferson is referred to as a hog, by his attorney, and really takes this to heart. The reader can see how this has affected Jefferson from the first few visits from Grant, and Jefferson starts eating on all fours like an animal. Also, Jefferson’s lawyer’s defense is that Jefferson is too dumb and naive to commit a murder like this. Tante Lou and Miss Emma want Grant to start visiting Jefferson to try and help teach that Jefferson that he is a man, and that he must die with dignity, not as a hog. As continuing to read the novel the reader can also infer that it is going to be Jefferson who learns a lesson because of the numerous visits from Grant. These visits from Grant takes a huge role in this novel as the plot and the themes revolve around these visits. Although Grant is the one who is trying to teach Jefferson a valuable lesson, I believe it is Grant who learns lessons about his attitude and emotions.
First of all, Grant is a very self-absorbed person; everyone in his community believes in religion and a god, while Grant does not. He is very disturbed by his surroundings and the white people that make his community the way it is. At the beginning of the novel, Grant is very stubborn and hesitant about visiting Jefferson in jail. When Tante Lou and Miss Emma ask him to start visiting Jefferson, he is not at all amused by the idea, and does not want to be the one who has to go visit Jefferson in jail. Grant didn’t even go to the court case because he knew what the result was going to be, and he has a funky feeling about going to visit Jefferson. I believe that Grant does not want to visit Jefferson because he does not want to have to face his own fears, his fear of guilt and his fear of failure. The reader can see Grant’s fear of guilt after his first visit to Jefferson; Grant tells Miss Emma and Tante Lou that he no longer wants to visit Jefferson because Jefferson is trying to make Grant feel guilty.
Grants fear of failure can stem from after his first couple visits to Jefferson as well. When Grants sees the mental state that Jefferson is in, and how hard society hit him, Grant can fear that there is no hope for Jefferson. After reading that Jefferson was on the floor eating food like a hog, I wouldn’t think that there is any hope for this man either. As the novel continues, and Grant visits Jefferson more and more, the reader can see how Grant is changed after each visit. Grant finally touches the inner feeling of Jefferson when Grant tells him that it would make his godmother really happy if he ate her food. Jefferson eats a little, and by the time of Grant’s next visit, he had seen an improvement in Jefferson. He is touched in how he is impacting Jefferson, but Grant is still struggling to get the feelings out of Jefferson; so Grant buys Jefferson a radio and a notebook, and tells Jefferson to write down whatever he feels.
In one scene of the novel, the reader can see how Grant has been changing, when he starts to cry in front of his students. Earlier in the novel, Grant is seen yelling at his students and mirrors how the white people in his community treat the black people in the community. Also in the beginning of the novel, the reader can see how Grant is an angry man, and does not like to help his students, even though he is a teacher, which is odd. The reader can see how Grant has changed because he always keeps stuff to himself and does not want to share his emotions. Now, later in the novel when he cries to his students, the reader can see how Grant has changed because he is now expressing his emotions and not keeping his feelings to himself.
From the beginning of the novel, to the end, I believe that Grant had changed the most, and learned something before Jefferson dies. Jefferson did die a man and with dignity, but Grant changed more by helping Jefferson, and Jefferson helped Grant learn about himself. In the beginning of the novel, Grant was hesitant to help Jefferson, but then when Grant has completed what he was set to do, both Jefferson and Grant become men. Also by the end of the novel, Grants has learned to accept the responsibility of his life and his actions and his role as an educated teacher in his black community.
A Look at Romulus Linney’s Portrayal of the Character of Jefferson, In His Adaptation Of Ernst J. Gaines’s Book, A Lesson Before Dying
Jefferson in Romulus Linney’s A Lesson Before Dying
In Romulus Linney’s, A Lesson Before Dying, Linney highlights the abounding inequalities and obstacles African American people faced on a daily basis in society and government in the South during the 1900’s. Romulus Linney was a white man born in 1930, in Philadelphia, but raised in North Carolina and Tennessee. Linney attended Oberlin College for his undergraduate work and continued his education at Yale School of Drama for his Masters Degree (Fleming ).After his education and being drafted into the army, Linney did an adaptation of Ernest Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying. Ernest Gaines was an African American man who grew up in slavery and used his personal experiences as inspirations for his work (Babb).
Linney conveys Gaines’ message by telling a story of a local black man named Jefferson. Jefferson was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for the robbery and murder of a white man; far from an abnormal occurrence for the time period. The characters, Grant Wiggins, the local school teacher, and Miss Emma, Jefferson’s Godmother, are given the opportunity to visit Jefferson while he awaits his death in a jail cell. Mr. Wiggins and Miss Emma choose to take advantage of that time to change Jefferson’s attitude towards his life. On the surface, Jefferson is the individual who is in need of Grant Wiggin’s help in order to find himself again, but as the play progresses, one is caught straying from the idea that Jefferson is the one in need of help, and rather is directed to the notion that Jefferson, instead, acts as a catalyst for each character’s self-discovery.
During the exposition of the play, Linney uses the trial scene as a perfect gateway to expose the psychological effects of racism on a person and also as a basis for the play to follow. Jefferson was not doubting his manhood, until the trial, where he fell victim to racism within in the legal system. “What justice would there be to take this life? Justice, gentlemen? Why, I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this.”(Lesson Before Dying 7). While representing and defending Jefferson in court, Jefferson’s lawyer refers to him as a “hog” after various presentations to the jury of evidence that would prove Jefferson’s innocence. The change in strategy made by the lawyer was done to adhere to society’s preconceived beliefs of black people and win the case by personifying Jefferson as animalistic and incapable of planning a murder. The lawyer’s strategy failed and caused an extensive shift in Jefferson’s psychological state. Jefferson, after the trial, acted as if he was a hog; asking for corn and walking on his hands and knees. Without the trial, Jefferson would have never had the psychological turn-around and would have never needed Mr. Wiggins. Linney wrote all of the characters as dynamic characters, but Mr. Wiggins is one of the most dynamic characters in the play.
Mr. Wiggins is written to represent the inner struggles of what African Americans went through; deeper than the struggles Jefferson represents. Throughout, the audience members gathers that Mr. Wiggins was sent to college by a collective contribution from their community, with the intentions for him to come back and educate the younger generations. The education Mr. Wiggin’s sought was supposed to enhance his quality of life, but in an ironic turn of events he developed a hatred for the white man and a distance from his own community. When confronted
by Miss Emma and his Aunt Lou, Mr. Wiggins denied their requests, reasoning that there was nothing that he could do for Jefferson. Although it is not until the end of the play that Jefferson reveals his true feelings, Linney utilizes the entire play to show the readers the copious amounts of significant moments that lead up to the ultimate breakthrough between Jefferson and Mr. Wiggins.
Jefferson’s transformation is evident in that Mr. Wiggins helped him realize that he is a man, not just another racial stereotype. Mr. Wiggin’s transformation is more subtle. In the beginning of the play, Mr. Wiggins is portrayed as a deeply reticent and detached, slightly cold, educated black male who sees himself as useless in his community because nothing will change; white’s will always have the power. While working with Jefferson, Linney gives the reader multiple opportunities to pick up on subtle occurrences throughout that lead up to Mr. Wiggins learning from Jefferson, learning that things can change; people can change. Throughout, Mr. Wiggins did not believe society could change in any way, people would never be able to leave his community, or that he could help Jefferson, he constantly saw life as a continuum that was not capable of change, until Jefferson. Jefferson showed Mr. Wiggins that he was able to make a difference and change was possible, which inevitably increased Mr. Wiggin’s self-confidence and led to a little soul-searching, resulting in his self-discovery that he can be the difference that enacts change.
Due to the fact that Jefferson was able to ignite something in Mr. Wiggins, that had a butterfly effect on all the characters and story. Mr. Wiggins played a large role for each character overall; he was the connecting link between the idea of change and the action of change for his community, starting with his students.
A Lesson Before Dying has many focal points that one is able to discover and explore, making his play such a captivating one to watch. The many focal points may make it difficult to follow exactly where the story line is, but even with that minor difficulty, it forces the reader to take a step back and think about what is going on. Linney did not incorporate many characters into his play but, each character is impacted, or affected, by the two main characters, Jefferson and Mr. Wiggins. Overall, A Lesson Before Dying, at first glance, is a simplistic play about discrimination and racism in The South in the 1900s, but when looked at deeper, Romulus Linney’s use of characters and the dialogue between them is a driving force to categorizing A Lesson Before Dying, as a muckraking play that can be used to reveal the underlying effects of racism, segregation, discrimination in The South.
Jefferson: Scene before execution/First interaction with Grant
- Young black man
- Convicted of murder
- Acts like a hog (After trial)
- Godmother takes care of him
- Former student of Grant Wiggins
- Hardly educated
- Waiting in cell to be executed
- Meets with school children
- Has transformation from beginning to end
- Builds a relationship with Grant Wiggins
- Writes in journal.
Monologue: Jefferson walking up to the electric chair.
“I dunno how I got into this position. Everythin’ happened so fast. Brother, Bear, and I were all laughin’ havin’ fun and then there was gunshots. I didn’t know why they pulled out them guns, but I couldn’t move after it happened. Who was gonna believe the black man standin’ over a white man’s body? I wish I never got in that car. I wish I never went in that store. If I hadn’t done that I would not be here now. Mr. Wiggin’s did right by me though. I still dunno why he decided to help me or how he did it, God maybe, but he helped me be a man again. That lawyer callin me a hog messed me up, but I’m walking to this chair to prove to the white folks that they don’t got no power over me.”
"A Lesson Before Dying" by Ernest J. Gaines
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust; Imagine that you were to perish tomorrow. Surely, it is difficult because most of us are troubled by the thought. What would you do? Would you bungee jump off a 200ft cliff, skydiving, go to the bahamas, even spend all your money on your dream car, rot away in a jail cell? Well, this was a life of Jefferson, HOG, a prisoner in search of peace, pride, and justice.
In the novel A lesson before dying, by Ernest J Gaines, Jefferson, a man is convicted of murder of 3 victims. For his crimes, He is sentenced to death on April 8th. While awaiting his fate, Jefferson chooses to learn how to become a man before his death date with the help of Grant Wiggins.
Grant Wiggins is a self centered person, who is the only educated one to go to college in his neighborhood. Although, he wants to teach at his neighborhood school. Even though he hates he stays there only to see his lifetime crush Viviana who is married with 2 kids. She resents her husband, yet remains married in fear that he will take her kids from her if she decides to divorce. Viviana desperately wants to be with Grant, so secretly they meet at The Rainbow Club most nights. It is interesting to note that, Grant Wiggins changes throughout the story along with Jefferson. Evolving from a man scorn with anger and bitterness to one of strength and courage to of face challenges in his own life and community. As a favor to his love Viviana, Grant’s becomes teacher destined to help Jefferson become a man before executed.
The literacy devices that were used in the story are the following: Foreshadowing (page 3) I was not there yet I was there. No, I did not go to trial, I did not hear the ever dict.., Symbolism (page 140) The radio symbolic to the humanity or the outside world., Characterization (page 78-79) Maybe I’ll go half way, maybe I’ll dump it in the river Mr. Wiggins says selfish and disrespectful, Lastly, Figurative language (page 186) I caught grinning like a fool… I felt like someone just found religion.
To elaborate, I did enjoy this piece because of the imagery which makes the story appear before your eyes seeming less like a book but, as if I were there. I would recommend this book for people who wish to seek a deeper meaning of life. This book should be a high school reading level because of its details and symbolism in the book. It might be banned in some areas because of the violence and language.
Jefferson Character in "A Lesson Before Dying"
The book I am going to be talking about is called A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines. We had to choose a character in this story, I chose Jefferson.
Jefferson is one of the main characters in this story. This book is about Jefferson being accused of a robbery, but he was only in the wrong place at the wrong time. He had to go to execution, but before he did Grant had to become him as a man. Jefferson has many traits, but the ones I am going to talk about being that he is uneducated, open-minded and rude.
This character (Jefferson) was released at the beginning of the novel in the first paragraph. It explains how he got into the hole electric chair situation. He was in a store with some people in an alcohol store. There was a robbery and everybody got shot by some white men. Jefferson was the only one that survived, so they blamed it on him.
The first trait I am going to be talking about is that Jefferson is uneducated. He went to school, but his spelling is horrible, he also didn’t know a lot of complicated words, and he also didn’t go to the school that much time. It wasn’t because he dropped out, it was because that was all the education they got. I know this because of chapter 29. It was his diary. His spelling was very bad, you could barely understand what he was saying. The other example is how he doesn’t know a lot of things. But it’s not his fault because that is all the knowledge they get. The quote that shows this is on page 226 mr wigin you sayrite somethin but i dont kno what to rite an you say i must be thinkin. There is no punctuation, so it never ends. This explains why he is uneducated because he doesn’t know how to spell. This trait doesn’t really affect the story, but it shows how African American people don’t get so much education. That is how much they get. This is because African American people don’t get so much respect. They don’t even get enough education.
The way that Jefferson changes throughout the story are by his attitude. In the beginning, he wouldn’t talk at all. He was only being rude and not talking but at the end, he started opening up. Jefferson was open-minded at the end of the story he started telling Grant his feelings. For example, he let grant read his notebook. He also started to listen and talk to Grant, because before he would only look at the wall. The quote I found was on page 220 I see you have been writing, personal or can I look at it? It ain’t nothin Do you mind? If you want. The bold is Jefferson talking. He let Grant look at his personal journal. But he didn’t do that at the beginning, he wouldn’t even look at Grant at his eyes. This definitely helps Jefferson because Grant can understand what he wants now. Because, he is actually telling him.
The next and last trait that I am going to talk about is that Jefferson was a little rude. Even though it was only at the beginning of the book when Grant and Ms.Emma went to visit him, he would stare at the wall and not do anything not talking or even eating. I also saw it when he was being rude to Ms.Emma when she made all the food for him and he wouldn’t say thank you or EVEN EAT IT. On page 71 How do you feel Jefferson? Ms. Emma said He didn’t answer…As you can see he wouldn’t talk to anyone. This trait hurts him because since he was being so rude and not talking to anyone Grant didn’t really want to help Jefferson. Vivian was the one making Grant go back. This affected the relationship with Grant because since he didn’t want to go back with Grant, but when he started opening up, Grant liked going with Jefferson again.If there was no change with Jefferson then the story would be so boring because he wouldn’t have started to talk and he would have become a man. That would have been bad.
I have learned a lot about how they treat American people. It is so not fair that he didn’t do anything, yet he gets the blame. I don’t think that 1 part of what happened to Jefferson is fair. I can’t even imagine what he went through having to know that he is going to die badly. I don’t know what I would have done if that were me. The thing that gets me so mad is that HE DIDN’T DO ANYTHING. If he did kill it well, I get it because he did do something, but he did nothing. He was just at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Racism as a Message in a "Lesson Before Dying"
As Jefferson finds himself, in the wrong place watching a robbery of a liquor store. He himself is convicted and sentenced to death by an electric chair. A lesson before dying by Ernest J.
Gaines writes with the message about how people are treated based on their race. Jefferson’s defense attorney pleads with the court as he’s being convicted to death by comparing him to a hog who isn’t even worth executing. Grant Wiggins is a character who is an educated black teacher in the same town, who is also treated differently compared to others based on his race. Nearing the end closing onto the time before Jefferson is about to die, he begins to regain his humanity and starts recording his thoughts in a diary. As Jefferson dies in the end, he turns into more of a human than a hog and, In the end, he dies with the dignity of changing himself into the person he wants to be.
Gaines book set in the time before the Civil rights movements has the main idea about the brutal system that is tinted in racism, judgment, and treatment of African Americans. Gaines supports his theme of racism throughout the book with certain sentences such as I had come through that back door against my will, and it seemed that he and the sheriff were doing everything they could to humiliate me even more by making me wait on them (44) as the author is explaining that white people are allowed to humiliate black people without facing them or even speaking to them. As the idea of entering in the back door brings the idea of the segregation of blacks and white being separated in entering through separate doors. The idea of the people who enter through the back door (African American) has to wait till the white people have eaten or been served which shows the idea of control over others lives. Ernest J. Gaines book’s setting takes place in the pre-civil rights movements in Louisiana with signs of segregation between blacks and whites. In Gaines book A lesson before dying, there are 3 main characters that reveal the main points in the book. Grant Wiggins plays the role as the protagonist in the book, the narrator who experiences the most changes throughout the book as he starts looking for what he can change and help his community after he had given up the change in education. The mentor in the book is the character, Jefferson. He starts out as a quite character, but gets thrown into a tough situation nearing the end, he doesn’t let people define who he is as a person, he defines himself as a man, and he helps to teach Grant to do that as well.
With the major idea of racism being the message Gaines is portraying to the reader, a sentence to the reader that helps support the theme of racism would be “”We black men have failed to protect our women since the time of slavery. We stay here in the South and are broken, or we run away and leave them alone to look after the children and themselves (166) this message said by Grant shows an inside to the historical effects of slavery on society and how societal structures and relationships are affected. Carl Senna, the writer of the article Dying like a man, says in his writing …a white sheriff tells a condemned black man to write in his diary that he has been fairly treated. Although the prisoner assents, nothing could be farther from the truth (Senna, Carl. Dying Like a Man. The New York Times, The New York Times, 8 Aug. 1993, archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/97/12/28/bsp/16002.html.) which goes along of stating that the white sheriff wants the black man to lie and write he has been treated well which is the opposite of what has happened. Throughout the Book, the author Gaines has one strong message that stands out more than others, which is about racism. How the treatment of people is based on the color of their skin, and the journey of one character being falsely accused of a crime he did not commit, but at the end of it all, learning to not let others define who he is and even though he ends up dying in the end, he dies with dignity and whom he wants to be as a person.
Belief and Teachings
Faith has always played a role in human society. Some put their faith in a divine being, while others put their faith in more physical things. In the historical fiction novel A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest J. Gaines, a reader can see the motivation that people gain from faith, whether it be their own faith or the faith of others. This novel takes place the town of Bayonne, Louisiana during the 1940s. It depicts the struggle that two black men face in their lives, one having been wrongly accused of murder and the other trying to accept the state of his community. Jefferson was called a hog by his defense attorney and sentenced to death after being falsely accused. Throughout the book, Grant Wiggins, a schoolteacher, tries to help Jefferson learn how to act and die like a man. With the narration focusing on Grant, the reader sees how Grant struggles to live in a community where everyone he loves is oppressed. However, both Grant and Jefferson learn what it means to be a man in their struggles. Faith gives people the strength to accomplish anything is the ever-present theme in Ernest Gaines’s novel, A Lesson Before Dying.
Symbols are scattered everywhere throughout A Lesson Before Dying. When Jefferson is in jail, he does not have much to live for. After his defense attorney called Jefferson a hog, he takes those words to heart and loses the ability to act like a human. Grant spends time building that trust back up; reaching a human side of Jefferson thanks to the radio. Jefferson gets this radio with the help of the community. Thelma and Claiborne from the Rainbow Club donate money to Grant in order for him to buy this radio (Gaines 173). Jefferson clearly has the community behind him and they want to support him. Grant is not the only one who wants Jefferson to be a man. The radio represents everyone’s desire for Jefferson to become a man and die with dignity. The radio helps Jefferson to realize who he really is and how much hope the community has in him. The play that Grant organizes with his schoolchildren also represents the faith of the community. Grant is held in high esteem by most people he interacts with, especially by his students. After the play, “[they] waited onstage to hear what [Grant] thought of the program. [He] told them that it was fine, just fine” (Gaines 151). Here, the reader sees that Grant is losing faith. Most teachers would be very excited with the performance that the students put on. However, Grant thinks of the play as a representation of the constant, never-ending state in Bayonne. To him, it shows how year after year, nothing changes in this town. It is a symbol of the futility that he lives with, day in and day out. However, the performance of that year was subtly different: “The children found a nice little pine tree this year. Before, it was oak or anything else they could find” (Gaines 141). This pine tree symbolizes Bayonne’s steady improvement. In the past years, the children could not put enough effort into finding a pine. However, this year Grant motivated them enough so that the children wanted a pine tree for their performance. The pine tree shows that Grant is getting through to both the children and to Jefferson thanks to his and to others belief in those people. Symbols allow Gaines to convey the theme that faith allows people to achieve any goal.
Gaines also expertly uses metaphors to show the theme about faith. These metaphors occasionally range span entire pages within Gaines’s writing; conveying much about the book, its theme, and the characters. On one of his visits to Jefferson, Grant attempts to encourage Jefferson that there is the ability for everyone to change, no matter who they are. Before this, a feeling of futility could be found in Grant’s visits. Each seemed to have almost no effect on Jefferson, ending in an unfulfilling manner. However, Jefferson listened to Grant as he described:
how Mr. Farrell makes a slingshot handle. He starts with just a little piece of rough wood–any little piece of scrap wood–then he starts cutting…, then shaving. Shaves it down … till it’s not what it was before, but something new and pretty. … And that’s all we are, Jefferson, all of us on this earth, a piece of drifting wood, until we–each one of us, individually–decide to become something else. … [Y]ou can be better. Because we need you to be and want you to be. … Do you understand what I’m saying to you, Jefferson? Do you? (Gaines 193)
In this passage, Grant relates the construction of any item to every life. He says that “[h]e starts with just a little piece of rough wood,” showing how everyone starts out as an unsculpted work, waiting to be worked on and recreated. The fact that Grant discusses an item from childhood is also very important. It shows that while one may be unaware of it, one’s life is constantly changing. Grant then shows that evolution does not just occur in one step. Mr. Farrell needs to first cut the wood into a similar shape, and then spend just as much time shaving it until the slingshot has been created from a simple piece of wood. After beginning with a slingshot, Grant explains that everyone needs to find their own way and “decide to become something else.” However, this does not mean that everyone needs to find their path alone. Grant is encouraging Jefferson to change the future of their community while also coming to terms with his own fate. Describing the slingshot as “something new and pretty” reflects the potential for everyone to become beautiful in their own way. Throughout the passage, Grant’s faith in Jefferson is evident. In this metaphor, Gaines described the relationship between Grant and Jefferson while remaining vague and giving the reader a choice. Due to the fact that Grant is speaking, it seems clear that Grant is Mr. Farrell, shaping Jefferson into a man, and Jefferson is the slingshot. Later in the book, this is called into question. It becomes evident that Jefferson has also done so much for Grant with his growth. The reader begins to question if Grant truly was Mr. Farrell and if he was not the slingshot. This passage clearly displays the mutual faith that Grant and Jefferson had for each other. Furthermore, it reflects that the faith of each other motivated both Grant and Jefferson to move on in their lives and achieve their goals. The passage on page 193 clearly shows that A Lesson Before Dying has a theme which shows how faith provides strength to people in any circumstance.
The slingshot metaphor is not the only one in the book. A Lesson Before Dying contains many more metaphors, most of which show the strength and faith of the characters in the book. While in the Rainbow Club, Grant overhears a group of men discussing Jackie Robinson. Grant finds himself reflecting on Joe Louis, contemplating how he used to be the hero of the black community. Grant then thinks about the execution of another black victim and his final words: “Please, Joe Louis, help me. Please help me. Help me.” (Gaines 91). Here, it is clear that this nameless man was put to death for a crime which he hoped to escape. Not much is told to the reader about what happened in this scenario, but the parallels to Jefferson’s story are clear. They both need the help of others to reach their goal. However, Jefferson received this assistance while the Floridan victim did not. This plea for help shows how a lack of faith can leave people struggling to survive. Grant also finds himself in a tough spot right after Tante Lou and Miss Emma request his help in re-civilizing Jefferson. He goes to the Rainbow Club and has a few drinks while waiting for Vivian. Once she arrives, Grant displays his contempt for Bayonne. He thinks that they should just leave town right away. Vivian replies that she is committed to this town, and reminds Grant that he is as well (Gaines 29). Vivian clearly has faith in everything she does. This motivates her to keep moving in a society where she is not quite white but not quite black; Vivian does not fit in. Despite this, she continues to work and help Grant in his life. Vivian motivates Grant to do the what is right with her faith, and Grant mocking her commitment shows that he knows this fact, simply choosing to ignore it. The relation between Grant and the saleswoman also shows lots of faith in Bayonne. When Grant walks into the store, the saleswoman does not believe that he will even buy a product of hers. Once she discovers he will, the saleswoman becomes slightly more interested, but not much (Gaines 175). The saleswoman clings to her faith that her skin makes her superior to blacks. Grant attempts to change this in his tutoring of Jefferson. Each person in this interaction shows that their faith gives them the strength to make the wrong and right choice respectively. Metaphors show that faith drives people and gives them strength in the novel A Lesson Before Dying.
Faith plays a large role in everyday life. Some people show faith in a divine being. Others put their faith in people and objects. Whatever faith one has, it drives them to accomplish tasks in one’s day-to-day life. The novel A Lesson Before Dying clearly displays this through metaphors and symbols found throughout the book. The symbols show that faith can be found anywhere and anyone can have faith. A specific metaphor about a slingshot shows that people inspire and give faith to others no matter who they are. The metaphors display faith in action and how there are different ways to interpret faith. The faith in A Lesson Before Dying applies itself to almost any situation. Ernest Gaines teaches the reader how to believe in themselves and others; a skill that leads to success throughout life. Faith can be found anywhere in the world, driving humanity to greater heights.