A Lesson Before Dying Critique

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A Lesson Before Dying
By Ernest J. Gaines


Ernest J. Gaines was born in 1933 on a Louisiana plantation in the midst

of the Great Depression. As a young boy of 9, he began his work in the fields.

He spent his childhood digging potatoes, and for a days labor was rewarded

with 50 cents. He was raised during this time by his aunt, Augusteen Jefferson,

who showed Gaines a determination most of us could only dream of, as she

cared for her family with no legs to support her. At age 15, after moving to

Vallejo, California with his parents, Gaines discovered the joy of the public

library. The library greatly influenced his decision to become an author.

While A Lesson Before Dying was written in an attempt to show how

much racial tension there was at the time, Gaines also managed to show how

one can stay close to his roots. I feel that the book was also written as a

dedication to his aunt, to show how the courage of one person can affect

everyone around them. The book also shows in the protagonist's (Grant)

internal conflicts, that one must remain true to their heritage. It illustrates that

knowledge is important, but knowledge isn't just a GED. How can one move

forward in life without knowing their family's previous mistakes? To quote

George Santayana, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

What grasped me most about the novel was Gaines' way of showing his

readers that you have the ability to not only face mistakes in your past with

bravery, but to turn and show the same backbone when looking as to what

your future may hold. For instance, Jefferson has to relive the simple mistake

of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Though wrongly accused he

was, Jefferson was also able to face his execution like a man, showing

unbelievable strength toward his postexistence. Grant, on the other hand, had

always thought about his future. His future with Vivian, his future in a new

place. What Grant didn't see was that he did not know a single thing of his

past or heritage, and before he could move on he had to know what he was

leaving behind. Grant was able to show this to me by saying, "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 someone else." While we all will

become something else if we so choose, we didn't start out that was.

Everything was made and created from what they originally were. No one can

forget their past, because it is your past that makes you. People should take

life as it comes, and keep their eye on the future. For example, two of my

dogs were poisoned in one week about a month ago. I could have cowered in

one place, tried to forget the past, and stay where I was instead of moving

forward. I realized I can't forget them, my past, but I have to face life without

them. It will be different, but change isn't something to be feared. Since their death, I have become a person who cherishes every moment shared with

someone. I can't say I started out that way.

What I enjoyed most about A Lesson Before Dying was watching how

Jefferson's outlook changed with Grant's visits. I feel there are certain steps in

the grueling process of grieving, and finally acceptance. I felt I knew how

Jefferson felt, because I have been there, so naturally, I adored reading it. First

he blamed himself for being imprisoned. He refused to speak to anyone

because he couldn't find it in himself to do it. Then, Jefferson began blaming

everyone for what happened to him. He lashed out because he knew he was

innocwnt and there was nothing any of them could do to save him. Jefferson

was angry because nothing that anyone could say would change the fact that

he had to die. Next came understanding. No, no one could stop him from...
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