Books and Movies Reviews

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines

Author Ernest J Gaines explores the consciences of two young black men living in the Jim Crow south in his novel, “A Lesson Before Dying.” Jefferson, a barely literate and poor man, is caught at the scene of a liquor store shootout. Although innocent, having been at the wrong place at the wrong time earns him a seat in the electric chair. His defense attorney does not do much to prevent this by focusing on his lack of intelligence and calling him a hog. Grant Wiggins, who has returned from the university to become a school teacher, is appointed by his aunt and Miss Emma, Jefferson's godmother, to prove his lawyer wrong and make him a man before he dies. We watch as these two young men are forced to come together, resist one another, and finally come to grips with their own humanity.
Very few blacks in the quarter have the opportunity to become educated. Grant may have struggled in the university learning reading, writing, and'rithmatic, but he has failed to learn more important life lessons.He thinks the only way out is to escape from the quarter and move elsewhere, someplace where he is not bothered by such commitment. When Miss Emma and Tante Lou manipulate Grant into teaching Jefferson to be a man before he dies, he thinks the situation is hopeless.Grant says to Miss Emma "What can I do that you haven’t done the past twenty-one years?; He thinks the only lessons worth teaching come out of school books.He says, ;Yes I’m the teacher.And I teach what the white folks around here tell me to teach – reading, writing, and'rithmatic." He has yet to see what he can teach Jefferson about manhood, and in turn what Jefferson can teach him. In a bout of frustration, Grant turns to Vivian, his girlfriend.Everyone is counting on Grant, but Grant can’t even count on himself during this time. He asks her, ;What do I say to him? Do I know what a man is? Do I know how a man is supposed to …

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