A Hero’s Journey
In A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines. In a town in Louisiana, where segregation between blacks and whites are at its highest point. The protagonist in this novel, Grant Wiggins. Grant is the son of sugarcane cutters who labor on a Louisiana plantation. Grant escapes this labor and attends college. He returns to his hometown, educated, becomes a school teacher. Grant is a bitter, self-absorbed young man. But he is the key to solving a young black man’s dignity and honor. Jefferson is that man. He has been misaccused for murder and robbery, and is sentenced to the electric chair. During the trial Jefferson’s defendant stated that Jefferson was not a man but a ‘hog’. That name triggered Grant’s journey on becoming a hero. Old Miss Emma, the godmother to Jefferson, pleads Grant for his help. “‘Called him a hog...I don’t want them to kill no hog...I want a man to go to that chair, on his own two feet”’ (Gaines 5). Miss Emma wants to prove to the white folks that Jefferson can be a man, and Grant’s task is to educate Jefferson to be that man. Grants self-absorption pulls him from the task to help his community by aiding Jefferson. He feels that there is too much failure brought upon his people. “‘We black men have failed to protect our women since the time of slavery...They look at their fathers, their grandfather, their uncles, their brothers- all broken”’(166, 167). Grant’s resolution for removing the pain of failure, he removes himself from the people he loves. After visits to the jail, Grant becomes more interested in Jefferson. A possible connection was made when Jefferson spoke to Grant just by eye contact. “‘When are they going to do it?’... Then he looked at me. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? his eyes said” (Gaines 73). It seems that Jefferson and Grant have a lot in common. Jefferson has no feeling of fear or care in his death. Grant wants no commitments and to be free in his bitterness. Eventually Grant comes to...
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