Theme Of Oppression In A Lesson Before Dying

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Oppression, regardless of whichever form or degree inflicted, often leaves devastating effects on its victims. Ernest Gaines ' novel A Lesson Before Dying portrays a manner of oppression through Gaines ' chosen setting of the prejudiced south during the 1940 's. The story revolves around the interaction of the main characters: Grant Wiggins, a teacher, and Jefferson, an African American man sentenced to death after being falsely convicted of a crime. A Lesson Before Dying is told through Wiggins ' perspective as the teacher tries to enforce dignity and self-worth into Jefferson before he dies. The author uses Jefferson, Matthew Antoine, and Grant Wiggins to reveal to his audience that racism is an oppressive force. As the novel progresses, …show more content…
Wiggins ' former teacher is a man of mixed race and shows a strong self hatred "for the mixture of his blood and the cowardice of his being, and he hated us [the black people] for daily reminding him of it" (62). Antoine, like many other mulattos, believes that there is a social hierarchy of races ranging from the shade of one 's skin tone: whites are at the top, mulattos coming second, and then blacks are at the very bottom. When Wiggins visits Antoine after graduating university, Antoine explains to Wiggins that "you’ll [he 'll] see that it’ll take more than five and a half months to wipe away-- peel--scrape away the blanket of ignorance that has been plastered and replastered over those brains in the past three hundred years" (64). The oppression that racism creates makes teaching seem pointless because of the preconceptions programed into the children 's minds from generations before them. Antoine believed "that there was no other choice but to run and run" and told his students "that he was living testimony of someone who should have run [ran]" (62). Wiggins says that "he [Antoine] could teach any of us one thing, and that one thing was flight" (63). Antoine didn 't believe that any of his students could successfully combat against the oppressive society and change what had been established for hundreds of years; "there was no freedom here" to fight, the only chance his students have of escaping the …show more content…
Wiggins is presented as a proud, African American man who suffers because of the location and time period that he lives in. The teacher claims that he is forced to "teach what the white folks around here tell me [him] to teach—reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic" (13). In the novel, Wiggins desperately wants to escape from the racism buried deep in the community of Bayonne but fails to leave; even after going to university, Wiggins returns. The oppressive environment forces Wiggins to restrain his intelligence and mental capability in the company of whites. On several occasions Wiggins is forced to use improper English on purpose to insure that the whites do not feel threatened. When the sheriff mispronounces a word, Wiggins repressed the urge to correct him and even says "Yes, sir, batries" ' when the teacher knows the correct way to pronounce the word is "batteries" ' (177). Although Wiggins is an educated man, he cannot figure out a way to help change the oppressed black community of Bayonne. Wiggins describes what the community is living in as a "vicious circle" that even if "he wants to change it, and maybe even tries to change it, it is too heavy a burden because of all the others who have run away and left their burdens behind" (167). The continuous cycle of oppression is what keeps Wiggins constrained to where he

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