A Lesson Before Dying: an Examination of a Prodigious Storyteller

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A Lesson Before Dying: An Examination of a Prodigious Storyteller A good novel entertains the reader. An excellent novel entertains and enlightens the reader. Set in a Cajun community in the late 1940’s, A Lesson Before Dying is a heart-warming tale of injustice, acceptance and redemption. A Lesson Before Dying by Earnest J. Gaines is an excellent novel. Not only does Gaines inform the reader, he entertains will his effective storytelling. His use of symbolism, voice and stylistic devices keeps the reader enticed to the very last page. One way Gaines is an effective storyteller is his use of symbolism. The first symbol to present itself in A Lesson Before Dying is the hog. During trial for robbery and first degree murder, Jefferson’s attorney attempts to get him off by dehumanizing him and denouncing his intelligence, claiming he is incapable of murder because he doesn’t have a “modicum of intelligence” (Gaines 7). He even goes so far as to compare Jefferson to a hog: “Why, I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this” (Gaines 8). This statement drives the central conflict. The hog, a filthy animal, represents the way the whites treated and regarded the blacks; as dirty, unintelligent and inferior animals, whose sole purpose was to work for them. The second symbol to appear in the novel is food. In A Lesson Before Dying, Tante Lou uses food as a means of affection. When Grant tells her he is going into town to eat, he says "Nothing could have hurt her more when I said I was not going to eat her food" (Gaines 24). Miss Emma brings Jefferson his favourite foods while in prison, to try and comfort him and show him he is loved. When Jefferson refuses to eat, Miss Emma takes it straight to heart and is greatly distressed. Grant even tells Jefferson to eat for Miss Emma, to show that he loves her. In addition to symbolizing love, food also symbolizes Jefferson’s humanity in the novel. Jefferson, taking being called a hog as a great emotional blow,...
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