A Lesson Before Dying: An Analysis

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In Ernest J. Gaines’ “A Lesson Before Dying,” the town school teacher, Grant Wiggins must teach Jefferson, a young black man accused and sentenced to death for murder, to be a man before he is executed. Throughout the novel, the white man as a whole plays the general role of villain, mainly through discouragement, such as through name calling and demanding utmost respect. The court trial scene in the first chapter of the book ends with the defense, stating “Why, I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this” (page 8). Consequently, calling Jefferson a hog proves to be extremely discouraging and dehumanizing, causing him to neglect the attention of any visitors as well as lash out with anger at others and refuse to…show more content…
For example, when Grant tries to purchase a radio for Jefferson from Edwin’s Department Store, the white sales clerk shows him no respect, repeatedly attempting to prevent him from buying a brand new radio and later making him wait several minutes to pay while she struck up a conversation with another white woman. There are also several instances in the book in which normal conversation is taking place between blacks and whites and a given white person is annoyed or angered by Grant’s speech because he is educated. They are frustrated when a black person, who should be below them in all aspects of life by societal standards, comes across as better in any way. Often, Grant must consciously watch his choice of words as to not let his higher level of education show too much by not using slang or using proper grammar. One instance of this mindfulness occurs when Grant brings the radio to the courthouse and the Sheriff asks if it has any “batries.” Grant almost responds using the proper word “batteries” before realizing that this may exasperate the sheriff and instead uses his word choice of “batries”. Moreover, another example of the white villainy in the novel is the conviction of Jefferson. He is found guilty principally based on the fact that he was at the scene of the crime at the time of the incident,
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