The Lesson Learned Through Tough Times
Gaines’ novel, “A Lesson Before Dying,” depicts a setting of a small town in rural Louisiana in the 1940’s. Slavery was abolished in 1865 in the 1940’s, however African Americans were still not treated with equality. Entire towns were still segregated; schools, churches, stores, bars, etc. African Americans were no longer slaves, but still lived on White American plantations, tending to their fields, houses and families. Grant Wiggins, the main character in the novel, is an African American teacher in the small town who is challenged to teach Jefferson, a prisoner on death row, a lesson before dying. He is confronted with many race related issues throughout the story.
The book begins with Jefferson, also an African American, being falsely accused of robbery and murder, which led to his sentence of death by electrocution. He was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, which led to a trial with a jury full of white members voting on his life. The defense attorney worked hard to gain sympathy from the jury members, referring to Jefferson as a stupid boy incapable of the crime he is accused of a hog, and saying, “Why, I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair.” It was apparent that the jury gave little effort if any at all trying to sympathize or understand Jefferson’s situation. They returned to court with the verdict as soon as lunch was over. The courthouse still had segregated bathrooms. The black bathrooms were in the basement and in terrible condition. Even the prison cells were separated by color and the cells on each side of Jefferson’s were left empty as well. Miss Emma, who was Jefferson’s godmother and close friends with Grants auntie, Tante Lou, requested that he visit Jefferson in prison to teach him to be a man before he was electrocuted so he would not die the “hog” that his attorney had labeled him as. Miss Emma, a former help for the Pichot family that owned...
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