March 22, 2013
Ernest J. Gaines and His Inspirations
Slavery was a big part of American life in the southern United States until the mid-1800’s. Ernest J. Gaines spent his life writing about African Americans from their time in bondage to the time of his childhood growing up in south Louisiana. He provided a unique view of plantation life during the civil war and reconstruction and the impact both had on all Americans, especially those living in the south. Gaines’ many works illustrate how our country as grown and evolved to become the society we live in today. In his novel “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman”, Gaines proves he is a great American author by giving readers a glimpse of the time of slavery in south Louisiana and relating the setting to historic plantations in the south. Ernest J. Gaines was much like many of the characters in his novels. He was born in south Louisiana on January 15, 1933 at the River Lake Plantation. His childhood experiences, growing up in rural south Louisiana, are reflected in the characters and ideas in many of his novels. One recurring theme in many of his works deals with the estrangement between fathers and sons, which Gaines also experienced. Despite all of the obstacles he faced, including the limited education opportunities, he went on to become a great American author. His early education was at the St. Augustine School in New Roads, Louisiana, which was a room in the back of a black church. He attended this school for six months in the year and went to the school for three years. Gaines was driven to succeed like many of the characters in his books and he used education and his love or reading to build a foundation for success. The colorful characters he created depict a view of himself and many people that he loved and admired throughout his life that are the basis for many of his novels. Gaines grew up on the plantation that many of his ancestors lived and worked on. “At age fifteen he moved to Vallejo, California to live with his mother and step-father. His step-father encouraged him to read and he spent much of his time in the library doing just that.”(Grant) After his graduation from high school, Gaines joined the Army and spent two years in the service. Upon his getting out of the military he enrolled in San Franciso State University where he pursued his writing. He published many short stories about African Americans because he could not find any books that were written about that group of people, and these short stories were instrumental in his gaining entry into the prestigious Stanford University writing program. “Upon leaving Stanford University he took a position as the Writer in Residence at Danville University in Ohio. Later he joined the faculty of University of Louisiana-Lafayette holding the same position.”(Grant) He currently resides in a house on the same plantation he grew upon on with his wife, attorney Dianne Saulney. (Grant) Gaines gained notoriety the short stories he wrote and published as a student at San Francisco State University. He wrote his first novel, “Catherine Carmier”, in 1964, which although not his most known work, was still worth reading. Catherine Carmier is a tragic love story set in rural Louisiana and deals with the complex caste system that existed during that time in history. His first publication was a stepping stone to building his foundation for the success he would ultimately realize. His most famous work would not be written and published for another seven years. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman was published in 1971 and this vaulted him to worldwide fame. His novel was later made into a movie in 1974. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman will most likely be remembered as the best of all his stories. What endears this novel as one of his best is the interesting historical...