Themes In Ernest Gaines A Lesson Before Dying

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A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines For my independent reading project, I chose A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines. This novel depicts a dramatic and complex prison experience. The main setting is in a non existent town called Bayonne, Louisiana in the time period prior to Civil Rights for African Americans. The most important scenes occur in the prison. In this time period, the characters face extreme racial discrimination and traps both main characters, Grant Wiggins and Jefferson, in two different types of prisons; Grant’s being mental and Jefferson’s being a legitimate physical prison. The story is told in the view of Grant Wiggins who is an African American teacher at a plantation school. Grant is also one of the protagonists, …show more content…
Jefferson’s attorney has an extreme racial bias towards him and his only defense for him is to explain he is simply too uneducated to successfully plan out a robbery and murder, truly dehumanizing him. This is shown when the attorney states, “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.” (pg.8) The one outstanding major conflict of the book begins when Jefferson is sentenced to be executed, his godmother Miss Emma, asks Grant to help Jefferson die with dignity. Dying with dignity is definitely the major conflict of the whole book. As Grant struggles to help teach Jefferson and give him some sense of dignity, we see a gradual transformation in both characters. Jefferson changes from a truly angry, silent, and hurt man to a passionate, brave, and independent man. We also see a change in Grant as he faces the problems of a racist, primarily white society and his own problems reflected through …show more content…
The first main message is the redemption in death. Jefferson began as an average, uneducated laborer. When he was accused he became almost barbaric and extremely angry due to the unjust and cruel racial boundaries put on him, tying in with the other theme of breaking through boundaries and stereotypes. In the end, however, Jefferson comes to peace with himself mentally and found final rest when he is

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