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A Lesson Before Dying essay

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An Unjust Conviction "Without love for my fellow man and respect for nature, to me, life is an obscenity "This quotations from Ernest J Gaines author of A Lesson Before Dying portrays his compassion for men. Ernest Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying is a novel of self-discovery and conflicting responsibility in the face of injustice. This novel explores themes that embody truths about life in a late 1940's Louisiana setting of intricate conflicts. The setting of the novel indicates an arduous sense of acceptance for injustice due to racial discrimination and a stressed idea of responsibility over this, all attributable to the unavoidable death of bystanders. Gaines constructs an obscure web of human connections, using the developing characters of Grant Wiggins and Jefferson to portray the effect people have on one another. By centering on this relationship, the novel evolves as each of these characters, as well as those around them, strengthens as people. Both Jefferson and Grant grew dependent on each other so they could both grow into men, "He needed me, and he wanted me here, if only to insult me"(Gaines 130). ...read more.


Consequently, Grant transforms from a faithless, resentful man, reluctant to teach Jefferson to die like a man, into a revived man with hopes for the improvement of the community. The plot of A Lesson Before Dying focuses on the struggles of Jefferson, a poor and oppressed man, trying to gain a measure of pride and dignity within a hostile and racist environment. In the novel Jefferson exemplifies the average African American man over whom the white community has utter control. However, Jefferson grows into a symbol of potentiality of black empowerment against the prevailing racial injustices. When trying to defend Jefferson from being convicted of murder, his attorney reduces him to the level of an animal, stripping him of any human dignity left in him. "What justice would there be to take this life? Justice, gentlemen? Why, I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this" (Gaines 8). This animalistic characterization reflects the view held by the white society toward blacks, thus, making Jefferson a symbol of all African American men. This description deeply affected Jefferson in his belief that as a hog, he was worth nothing and deserved the treatment he was receiving in jail. ...read more.


Jefferson's execution becomes symbolic and the community will long remember it, so he asks that his final moments make an impact on the whole society. With Jefferson's dynamic last impression the whole community learns the most important lesson of all, Jefferson's death with dignity marks the beginning of acknowledgement of human equality. Racism and discrimination of African Americans has never been portrayed so vividly and severely as in Ernest Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying. One must acknowledge the symbolism encompassed by the title, this lesson; that is expected to be learned solely by Jefferson, the unjustly convicted African American, is accepted by a wider range of characters. As Grant struggles to impart a sense of pride to Jefferson before he must face his death, he learns an important lesson as well: heroism is not always expressed through action, sometimes the simple act of showing identity is sufficient. In Jefferson's attempt to accept his upcoming death, he struggles to comprehend the significance of his execution and how it has gained him a sense of respect he had not previously attained. Lastly, one must recognize the most symbolic lesson learned throughout the novel, that of the racist community who come to see Jefferson's execution as a beginning of black empowerment. ...read more.

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