Many characters in A Lesson Before Dying demonstrate an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, from Jefferson and Grant to Edna Guidry and Henri Pichot. The murder of Alcee Gropé occurs because Brother and Bear are desperate for wine, and Jefferson is unable to explain what happened in great detail because he was drunk; in a sense, the main conflict of the book can be blamed on excessive drinking. Grant drinks to avoid problems rather than cause them, but even this bad habit negatively impacts his relationships with Vivian, Jefferson, and Tante Lou. The pervasiveness of alcoholism among the black and the white characters in the novel suggests that racism is only one of many social ills that the characters must overcome. The transformational power of love
At a pivotal moment in the text, Grant tells Jefferson that he persists in visiting the prison not because he feels obliged to his aunt or Miss Emma, but because Vivian encouraged him to. For Gaines, love is a more powerful influence than selfishness, duty, or even society at large. Vivian's love also transforms Grant in smaller ways--for example, she influences him to become more dedicated to his job and hold a Christmas pageant for the children, something he would be unable to do otherwise. And significantly, it is kindness from Grant and the townspeople rather than preaching from Reverend Ambrose that finally convinces Jefferson to behave with dignity. The sources of dignity
At the beginning of the novel, Grant is convinced that any dignity he has comes from his high level of education. This attitude prevents him from getting through to Jefferson, who is of significantly lower social status than Grant. It also brings him into conflict with Reverend Ambrose, who believes that dignity can only come from faith in God--at the Christmas pageant, Ambrose even implies that Grant is no better than Jefferson, because neither man has faith. By the end of the novel, both men learn from Jefferson that dignity...
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