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