Inequality In A Lesson Before Dying

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A Lesson Before Dying Common Task
How do social limitations affect someone’s ability to become a better person? The novel A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest J. Gaines, takes place from the perspective of Grant Wiggins, a black man who lived in the southern United States during the 1940’s. During this time period, there was a series of laws in place and multiple unspoken rules of etiquette that were designed to make black people inferior to the white population. Even with the harshness of white rule holding them back, the black characters in this novel develop and move past their issues as the story progresses. In A Lesson Before Dying, Gaines uses the character Grant and his struggles as a black man in the 1940’s Deep South to reflect the theme
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There was a series of laws and rules imposed by whites known as “Jim Crow laws” that made life as a black person extraordinarily difficult--in essence, they were legal regulations mixed with etiquette wherein “African Americans were relegated to the status of second class citizens.” (Pilgrim). Black people were not allowed to suggest that they were superior to whites in any way, shape or form, and were supposed to be the epitome of submissive and respectful. This can especially be seen in the novel when Grant, a black man and the primary narrator, is talking to Pichot, the white owner of the plantation he grew up on, about visiting Jefferson. Grant knows that he’s supposed to be respectful, so he makes sure to avert his eyes from Pichot at some points in their conversation, which is a sign of submission. The legal aspects of the Jim Crow laws, or …show more content…
Even before the novel begins, Grant went to school, got his education and became a teacher, though being an educated black man was frowned upon in the Jim Crow era. This could even be seen as a burden, as the sheriff describes Grant as “just a little too smart for [his] own good” (Gaines 49), but Grant uses his learning to continue his internal battle against the restraints placed upon him by society. Grant also faces difficulty with the prison system, as he begins to visit Jefferson. He tells aunt that he feels discriminated against, treated “as if [he’s] some kind of common criminal” for being searched by the white staff every single time he goes over to the prison--in essence, being treated less because of the societal bonds placed upon him. (Gaines 79) However, he continually visits the prison, regardless of the humiliation, and grows because he worked through the degradation to get to Jefferson and interact with him. The overarching oppression that he finds himself under also affects how he helps Jefferson to develop, and thereby developing himself. Upon hearing his defense attorney compare him to a hog, using only the fact of his race to defend him, Jefferson gives up and is ready to die accepting the role that the white man has placed him in. This societal bond makes it incredibly difficult for Grant to

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