Themes In A Lesson Before Dying

1384 Words 6 Pages
Hope of Changes

In A Lesson Before Dying, author Ernest J. Gaines describes how a dehumanized black community of the 1940s struggles to break free of the oppression they have endured in a racist society in order to gain respect, pride, and dignity. However, the novel contains several key factors that make it hopeful. First, the sad and pessimistic story of Jefferson’s impending execution transitions into an optimistic fight against the prejudice and injustice as Jefferson learned to “walk” to Gruesome Gertie --the electric chair-- with dignity and purpose. Second, Jefferson’s teacher, Grant, discerns his responsibility for the community and regains his sense of competence to make a difference for the people in the community. In addition,
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His transformation and bravery give confidence to the community that there is a black man who rises above the prejudice. His purpose is to answer the prayer of his people, as Grant explains to Vivian, his girlfriend: haunted by oppression and injustice since slavery time, the black people struggle to fight for their dignity, their human rights, and their freedoms; they are longing for a black man who would stand up to dispel the myth that white people are superior to colored people, but the task is a heavy burden for any black man to bear (Gaines 166-67). Although slavery ended about eight decades prior to the time period of the novel, the way that the white people view the colored people did not end; they treat people with darker skin as inferior; additionally, black people do not have as many human rights as white people. For example, a black person can only enter a white man’s house through the back door -the servant 's door- and a black person cannot attend the same school as white people. Miss Emma, Jefferson’s godmother (“Nannan”), wants Jefferson to be that person who takes up this burden to lift the veil of despair from the black people. Grant continues to explain to Vivian: “What she wants is for him, Jefferson, and me to change everything that has been going on for three hundred years” (Gaines 167). Miss Emma wants to see the unjust world she has been living in her whole life change before she dies, so she desperately turns to Grant to make Jefferson into a man who could make that happen for her. Jefferson’s transformation, from a “hog” into a man with dignity, symbolizes the beginning of a chain reaction for black people to fight against the

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