A Lesson before Dying, one of Ernest J. Gaines later works, was written in 1993. Some of his earlier works include A Gathering of Old Men and In My Father's House. The novel covers a time period when blacks were still treated unfairly and looked down upon. Jefferson, a main character, has been wrongly accused of a crime and awaits his execution in jail. Grant, the story's main protagonist must find it within himself to help Jefferson see that he is a man, which will allow him to walk bravely to his fate that lies in the execution chair. A Lesson before Dying captures the tale of a young teacher, who by helping another mistakenly finds his own soul. This paper explains the literary background of Gaines, facts about the novel, literary criticism, film reviews, social issues of the time, and a personal analysis of the movie.
The story begins with a trial of Jefferson being accused of murder. During the trial his lawyer calls him a hog that is not even worthy of the death penalty. Ultimately Jefferson is sentenced to death by electrocution. During the weeks following Miss Emma, who is Jefferson's "nanan", wishes for Grant Wiggins, a young schoolteacher to speak with Jefferson and make him understand that he is a man. Although Grant refuses he is forced to go by Tante Lou, his aunt and a good friend of Miss Emma's. Upon their first few visits Jefferson is cold towards Grant and Miss Emma, obviously believing he is a hog, as the attorney has stated. He refuses food offered by his "nanan", saying that "food aint for hogs." After Frequent visits, Jefferson begins to open himself up to Grant and speak about his feelings. Once Jefferson trusts Grant he is able to realize that he is a man and not a worthless hog. Through helping Jefferson become a man, Grant has done his own unconscious soul searching which has helped him find who he is, and has found him a place with God.
Ernest J. Gaines was an African American writer who was born on January 15, 1933 in Oscar, Louisiana. Although Gaines' schooling was limited to a few classes, he attended at San Francisco State and Stanford University he was able to become a distinguished author of his time. A few of his most recognized works include The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman and In My Fathers House. Gaines grew up on a farm where he helped his family by working in the fields where he was paid only $.50 a day. When Gaines was able to get out on his own, he moved to California where much of his time was spent in the library to avoid being is trouble. It was here that Gaines discovered his passion for writing.(Discovering Authors 1). His first novel was published in 1964. He began to receive awards, his most famous becoming the Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman.
Becoming a highly analyzed novel, many critics speak about their feelings. Carl Senna, one a literary critic, discusses the reasons for lack of communication in A Lesson before Dying. A large part of their communication problem comes directly from their class differences. Although Grant is not considered rich, he is well educated and lives rather comfortably, whereas Jefferson is nearly illiterate and has been a struggling farmhand most of his life. This gap that separates them makes it very difficult for them to speak. Neither one of them is at fault for this, but it frustrates Jefferson to the point where he often wants to leave the jail cell and not return. Also Grant speaks with Jefferson "reluctantly, prompted by his aunt, a moralizing scold and a nag"(Senna 5). Another good point Senna makes is that because of the time period, blacks were struggling to become equals and were more engrossed with their own wants and needs than worrying about Jefferson. Yes, they all realized that he is innocent but they are not at a time where they can fight for the innocence of this young boy. Therefore Grant "becomes their instrument in trying to save him[Jefferson] from disgrace"(Senna 5). Jefferson was not seen as much to these...
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