Lesson Before Dying Racism Essays

1021 Words Sep 24th, 2013 5 Pages
Throughout history and in literature, Black has always been portrayed as evil, whereas White has represented purity and light. These oversimplified stereotypes of something so abstract as skin color has plagued our culture with prejudice and hatred. Ernest E. Gaines, author of A Lesson Before Dying, tells the story of a young black boy named Jefferson who is set to die for essentially being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and a schoolteacher who is faced with the task of making him a “man”. The novel takes place in Bayonne, Louisiana in the 1940’s, a time when racism prospered. At this time in history people faced extreme prejudice based on the color of their skin. Though slavery had been abolished almost eighty years
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Dr. Joseph, the school superintendent, also only visits the Black children’s schools once a year, whereas he visits the White schools twice (53). When Doctor Joseph attempts to compliment Grant on his teaching style, he comments that Grant has “an excellent crop of students”, which again classifies the Black individuals as less than people (56). This could also be Doctor Joseph attempting to speak in a language Grant can relate to, the language of slavery, which is obviously innately racist and humiliating these events and conversation, Gaines communicates that the education system is highly flawed in Bayonne, Louisiana.
Racism in Bayonne, however, goes far past everyday segregation and abuse of power. Foremost, in the trial of Jefferson, his court appointed lawyer chooses to portray him as a “hog” or a man unaware of his actions and implications of these actions. The lawyer suggests he would “just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this,” suggesting that Jefferson’s life has no more value than that of an animal. This serves to show the reader just how horrible the racism is in Bayonne. The lawyer then argues that Jefferson is so ignorant that he is not even a human and “what justice would there be to take his life” (5). Rather than to argue that Jefferson is innocent, he decides to portray him as an animal, too stupid to recognize his own actions. Though the lawyer is obviously attempting to get him off, he only serves to humiliate Jefferson and the Black

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