A Lesson Before Dying


The Meaning of Independence in a Lesson Before Dying Novel

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer


What is independance? What comes to mind? Many would say that it means to be free from outside control; not depending on another’s authority.

The novel “ A lesson before dying” explains how this word, this meaning is ripped away from the hands of a young man named Jefferson. Throughout the novel Jefferson is caught in a crime scene that he did not commit, he is tried for murder, and called a Hog by those that don’t believe him. Jefferson has no independence, he relies on his aunt to feed, clothe, and take care of him when she can’t even take care of herself, he has no education or a job he is useless to everyone but yet he still is a person, a man with a name… not a hog.

Education is a big part in being Independent, it’s what gets us where we need to go in life or anything that may come our our way. People may think that it’s just another hurdle that we have to overcome, something that isn’t always accomplished. Although education isn’t one of Jefferson’s strong suits in ways it affects him greatly but his blindness to the situation should not hold him accountable for something he did not commit. In the novel it states “If i ain’t nothing but a hog, how come they just don’t knock me in the head like a hog? Starb me like a hog? More erasing, then: man walk on two foots; hogs on four hoofs”(193) As seen here Jefferson has the vocab/grammar of a 6 year old kid, if Grant were to speak there would be a great difference in the words chosen and in which way they were placed because he is an educated man. Education is very important to become Independent but it isn’t the only thing that it takes to get there.

Commonsense is also one of the many things needed to become independent, it means to have good sense and sound judgment in practical matters. Common sense is a thought or an action that leads you to choose right from wrong separate the good from the bad, this is something that Jefferson does not have. Even though the decision that Jefferson made to get in the car was very dumb and unsafe he was thinking of a way to get home he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. “… He wanted to run, but he couldn’t run. He couldn’t even think. He didn’t know were he was. He didn’t know how he had gotten there”(9) This text lets the readers know that at that moment Jefferson felt somewhat trapped he felt like he had no sense of direction. The absence of common sense greatly affected Jefferson, it impaired him to be able to think for himself, he doesn’t have education or common sense what is there left for him to lose…

Thinking for ourselves in many opinions may not be hard but their meaning of thinking for themselves may be different, a lot of people have others do it for them like a mother and her baby, she thinks for her baby because it is young and immature, in this case the baby is Jefferson and the mom is brother and bear, they persuaded him enough to say yes and get in the car. Although Jefferson has a mind of his own his ability to think for himself is not as strong as any other person. One of the pages in the novel has a sentence that says “A fool is not aware of right and wrong. A fool does what others tell him to do…{a}fool stood by and watched this happen, not having the sense to run”(7) This explains that Jefferson was so ignorant to the fact of doing the right thing that when he decided to take the money and not run to get help he put his life to be taken away for the actions of someone else. Thinking for ourselves is some very important and pushes us even closer to being independent, and in many cases it saves us from getting in a lot of trouble.

Lastly, probably the most important thing of being independent is having the money to prove that we’ve earned everything that we have. Being wealthy can get many people farther than having to depend on anyone else to provide it. Even though it is said many of times that money doesn’t buy happiness it does give you a life something that Jefferson did not have. He didn’t know what it was to work hard for something and be proud of himself for earning what he has. In the novel it clearly states that “he didn’t have a solitary dime”(4) he was broke all of the time he didn’t even know what money was worth. This shows that having money is nothing if the price is too big to pay. Money doesn’t grow on trees nor is it easy to have but if we are independent enough, cherish what we get because many don’t get anything have to supply for their families in ways we cannot imagine.

As stated Jefferson is not in any way, shape, form independent. No points that were spoken about in this essay reflect on Jefferson, but we are all human, many humans are not independent but the are and should be treated like anyone else. Isn’t that how God created us to be, to help when in need, to lift when down? Sadly not many of us see it like that but it takes to be independent to use our common sense and thinking for ourselves to notice that others need more help than we are used to, we just have to be willing to understand and not judge or call them names when they don’t speak the way they are supposed to or walk they way they should, Independence is something we learn as we grow not something we are born with.

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Review of Ernest Gaines’ Book, a Lesson before Dying

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

In the novel, “A Lesson before Dying”, by Ernest Gaines, the protagonist, Grant Wiggins gives a young convict a lesson during his last days alive. Suffering through the horrors of racism in their small community, black Americans seem to appear to have no chance of progression. As Mr. Wiggin’s struggles with a young man named Jefferson, he ends up learning a couple of lessons himself. In the process of Mr. Wiggins trying to help Jefferson, he befriends a white man, which gives his community hope towards stopping racism. Not only does Mr. Wiggins learn a lesson from this situation, but so do Jefferson, and a white deputy, Paul. These three characters have changed greatly throughout this novel, all changing very similarly to open hearted, caring men.

This novel insists on the fact that a man’s death can be a meaningful event in which could change a community. Jefferson has always led a quiet life, but when he becomes a convict for a crime he did not commit, he begins to react with anger. “But let us say he was not. Let us for a moment say he was not. What justice would there be to take his life? Justice, gentlemen? Why, I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this.” (Page 8, paragraph 4) When Jefferson gets convicted he begins to act upon what the whites think of him, a hog. In this novel Jefferson learns that by dying like a man, he will fight back to the community that wrongly accused him of a robbery and murder. Being a coloured man in a white society, Jefferson believes he will make his community proud. For these reasons Jefferson walked into his execution with his head held high, showing pride for his people. People were fascinated as an onlooker said “He was the strongest man in that room, Grant Wiggins,” (Page 253, paragraph 5)

Since Mr. Wiggins lives within a prejudice society, he has a bitter attitude towards whites, and cannot stand to think about how unjust Jefferson’s conviction was. For most of the novel Mr. Wiggins is living as a difficult, angry school teacher that longs for the day he gets to escape his community, which he believes will never change. As Jefferson’s trial approaches it emphasizes Mr. Wiggin’s pessimistic attitude. However, during the course of the novel, Mr. Wiggin’s personality begins to change. He begins to love something other than himself; Mr. Wiggins begins to love his community. He realizes that even small victories can produce a change, so he takes the first step towards improving his society. Rather than looking at Jefferson as a hopeless young man, Mr. Wiggins accepts Jefferson and begins to not only fight for Jefferson’s rights, but his own as well. Mr. Wiggins cries at the end of the novel which shows that he truly has turned into an open-hearted caring man. “I turned from him and went into the church. Irene Cole told the class to rise, with their shoulders back. I went up to the desk and turned to face them. I was crying.” (Page 256, paragraph 2) Since this novel is written in first person, the protagonist, Mr. Wiggins, ends the novel with the changes he has seen in himself, and in his community.

A character that changed the novel is Paul, the deputy of the prison. Paul began to mend the broken line between coloured people and white people, when he went to visit Mr. Wiggins. Even though Paul was already an open-hearted man, he continued to improve his position as a white deputy by showing that he cares. “She’s beautiful; you’re a lucky fellow there, Grant Wiggins.” (Page 255, paragraph 1) Paul seems to be the only caring man at the prison, which proves itself in this quote. In this community, a white man would never call a coloured woman beautiful, which shows that Paul is not prejudice. In this novel, Mr. Wiggins does not want to go back to the jail because he gets searched and is viewed as a lower status man by the guards. However Paul is one of the guards at the prison, and he befriends Mr. Wiggins, through his relationship with Jefferson. Jefferson trusts Paul enough to give him his belongings before he dies. This displays that Paul is a trust worthy man, especially for a coloured man to trust him. In the end of the novel Paul proves himself as a sympathetic deputy, he sees the problems that blacks experience and does not like it.

Mr. Wiggins, Jefferson, and Paul all learn that there is simple heroism in world. Jefferson defies those who consider him a ‘hog’ by walking with pride to the electric chair. Grant recognizes that he doesn’t have to run away from the south, but that he can stay and make the most of it with Vivian. As for Paul, Paul recognizes the power that he has always had. All these men changed by the end of the novel, they all learned a ‘lesson before dying’.

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Review of Ernest Gaines’ Book, a Lesson before Dying and Harper Lee’s, to Kill a Mockingbird

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

A Lesson Before Dying was written in first person point of view and Grant Wiggins is the narrator. It was published in 1994 and the setting was in the 1940’s. To Kill A Mockingbird was told in the first person point of view also. The narrator was an older version of Scout Finch. The setting was the time period between 1933-1935. It was also awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1960. In the novels A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines and To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee Jefferson and Tom Robinson are both victims of southern segregated society.

Jefferson from the novel A Lesson Before Dying lives in a small town outside of Bayonne during a time period of racial segregation. He finds out truly how hard it is to deal with the racism when he has to be executed for something he did not do. Just like Jefferson, Tom Robinson from To Kill A Mockingbird has to deal with the racism when he is sentenced to jail time. Unlike Jefferson, Tom lives in Maycomb, Alabama. Both the novels are written during a time of prejudice and because of this Jefferson and Tom have to suffer the punishment of prison because they are black. In both novels people other than Tom and Jefferson are hurt by the verdict.

My first example comes from the novel To Kill A Mockingbird when Jem Finch and Reverend Ambrose are sitting at the courthouse waiting for the jury to reach their verdict. Jem kept saying how he thinks his father, Atticus, who is Tom’s lawyer, has won the case. Reverend Sykes looks over to Jem and says, “Now don’t you be so confident, Mr. Jem, I ain’t ever seen any jury decide in favor of a colored man over a white man” (279). During this time Reverend Sykes thinks because Tom is black he will be found guilty, and we soon find out he isn’t the only one who thinks this. After the jury has reached the verdict of guilty Jem got very upset. He did not understand why he was found guilty when everyone knew he is clearly innocent. When Jem was talking to Atticus he said, “It ain’t right, Atticus” (284). He was telling Atticus how it was not right that Tom was found guilty of a crime he was completely innocent of.

My next example comes from the novel A Lesson Before Dying during Jefferson’s trial. Right in the beginning of the novel Grant Wiggins, the narrator, says “I was not there, yet I was there. No, I did not go to the trial, I did not hear the verdict, because I knew all the time what it would be” (3). Grant did not have to go to the trial to know that the jury would find Jefferson guilty of all charges. Since Jefferson was black Grant knew he would be guilty. As Jefferson’s godmother, Miss Emma, and his Aunt Tante Lou sat in the courtroom waiting to hear the verdict Grant narrated, “She was not even listening. She had gotten tired of listening. She knew, as we all knew, what the outcome would be” (4). She, Aunt Tante Lou, knew even before the trial started that Jefferson was going to be found guilty. Everyone in that courtroom knew he would be guilty because of his skin color.

Throughout the novels Tom and Jefferson have to learn to deal with their consequences of their crimes. Jefferson has to suffer the thought of being executed and Tom has to suffer jail time with the thought of possibly going on another trial to be proved innocent. They both know they were innocent and it is rather hard for them to understand why they are in prison. Grant tries to help Jefferson and teach him how to be a man and help him understand why he was there. Tom’s lawyer Atticus Finch helps prove that Tom is really innocent by getting him another trial.

Right before the jury broke apart to go talk about the trial and reach their verdict Judge Taylor let Atticus say a few last words. Atticus said, “In the name of God, believe him” (275). He knows Tom is innocent and he wants everyone else to believe him too. Soon finding out that the jury said that Tom is innocent Atticus thought of ways he could prove his innocence. After Tom’s trial Atticus whispered something in his ear which we later find out he was telling him about the appeal. When Atticus arrives home he finds Jem very upset and he tells him, “It’s not time to worry yet” (285). He told Jem about the appeal and how he was going to prove that Tom is innocent.

When Jefferson was found guilty his aunt and godmother both thought it would be a good idea for Grant to talk to him. After Grant keeps telling them that he will not talk to him because he cannot help him, he finally agrees to go. He talks to Jefferson a lot, but can barely get a word out of him. Grant asked Jefferson, “Do you know what ‘moral’ means?” (139). Jefferson just sat there and stared at him without saying a word. The more Grant visits Jefferson the more he starts talking and him and Jefferson start having conversations. When Grant asks Jefferson if he wants anything all he says is he wants a gallon of ice cream. Grant narrates, “I saw a slight smile come on his face, and it was not a bitter smile. Not bitter at all” (170). Jefferson is starting to become happy and his mood in the jail cell is changing. He is finally coming to terms with everything that is going on.

In both the novels Tom and Jefferson go with the flow throughout their trials. They do not really fight for their innocence because they know nothing could change the jury’s verdict. They do nothing to show that they do not care about the verdict. Jefferson just sits in his jail cell and waits for his time to come to be executed. Tom just gets really quiet and waits for his next trial to come. He later tries to escape from prison, but ends up getting shot.

After finding out that there will be an appeal for his case, Tom’s mood changes. After finding out the terrible news about Tom, Atticus asks to speak to Calpurnia, his housekeeper, privately. He tells her to come to Helen Robinson’s house with him to tell her the news about Tom dying. He says, “They said he just broke into a blind raving charge at the fence and started climbing over. Right in front of them” (315). At this point Tom was very upset about being put in jail and wanted to escape. The news spread quickly of Tom’s death. In his newspaper column, Mr. Underwood said, “Tom was a dead man the minute MayellaEwell opened her mouth and screamed” (323). Tom Robinson never had a chance because he was black. He knew he never had a chance and that is why he tried to escape.

As Jefferson’s execution date got closer and closer Jefferson started opening up more to Grant. They had more deep conversations that lasted longer. The day of Jefferson’s execution Grant did not go and witness the execution because he knew he could not handle it. After the execution Paul from the jail came and talked to Grant. He said to Grant, “He was the strongest man in that crowded room” (253). Jefferson faced his execution like a man with dignity. When the sheriff asked if Jefferson had any last words he said, “Tell Nannan I walked” (254). He walked with dignity and integrity as he went to the chair.

In the novels A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines and To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee Jefferson and Tom Robinson are both victims of southern segregated society. In both the novels Tom Robinson and Jefferson are convicted of a crime they did not commit. They both are punished for it, but in different ways. Jefferson has to face execution and Tom faces jail time until his appeal. In both the novels people other than Tom and Jefferson are very upset about the verdict. They have to suffer their consequences and Jefferson learns to die like a man, but Tom tries to escape his consequences and ends up getting shot and dying.

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Symbolzm in A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines

November 2, 2020 by Essay Writer

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.

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Ernest J. Gaines’ Representation of the Inevitability of Change As Illustrated In His Book, A Lesson before Dying

November 2, 2020 by Essay Writer

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.

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Analysis of a Lesson before Dying, By Ernest Gaines

November 2, 2020 by Essay Writer

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.

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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

November 2, 2020 by Essay Writer

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
  • Quiet
  • 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.”

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Racism as a Message in a "Lesson Before Dying"

May 19, 2020 by Essay Writer

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.

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Belief and Teachings

March 26, 2019 by Essay Writer

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.

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