A Lesson before dying - Referat
4.1. Grant Wiggins
4.3. Tante Lou
4.5. Miss Emma
4.6. Vivian Babtiste
4.7. Reverend Ambrose
4.8. Henri Pichot
4.9. Matthew Antoine
4.10. Deputy Paul Bonin
The novel “A lesson before dying“ is written by Ernest J. Gaines. The date of the first publication was 1993 but the story sets on the 1940s in Bayonne, Louisiana. The novel tells the story about Grant Wiggins, the protagonist and narrator of the story, who tries to help Jefferson, who is called a hog and sentenced to death although innocent, to die with dignity.1
Jefferson is sentenced to death, even if he is innocent, because he “was at the wrong place at the wrong time“2. He is blamed to be a part of a robbery in which a white man was murdered. At his trial Jeffersons defense lawyer says that Jefferson is not smart enough to plan a robbery and that it would be same if they put a hog in the electric chair.3 After the process his godmother, Miss Emma, is determined that Jefferson will die as a man with dignity. So she turns to Grant ans asks him to teach Jefferson to die as a man. Even if Grant is convinced that he can’t help Jefferson, he visits him periodically in jail because his aunt command him to do so. Over the next months Grant tries to teach Jefferson a lesson before dying but he also get a lesson himself.
Ernest J. Gaines was born on January 15, 1933, on the River Lake plantation in Pointe Coupe Parish, Louisiana. The fictional place “Bayonne“ is based on his homeland. In his childhood he worked eat the plantations and during winter he went to school. With 15 he moved to California to his parents. There he went to San Francisco State University. He published his first short story in 1956. Since then he never quit writing. In 1993 he won the National Book Critics Circle Award for his novel “A lesson before dying“. Now he lives with his wife on the plantation where he grew up.
1Gaines, Ernest J.: A Lesson Before Dying. Stuttgart, 2008. Page 7.
4.1. Grant Wiggins
Grant Wiggins, is an African-American schoolteacher living in the quarter. Raised by his Tante Lou, Grant is more educated than most of the people living in the quarter, black or white. However, he feels oppressed in the South because of his race, and longs to move to the North and take up a different profession.4
Jefferson is 21 years old. He is uneducated and works in the fields since childhood. He is sentenced to death blamed for the murder on Alcee Gropé.
4.3. Tante Lou
Grant's elderly aunt, Tante Lou, raised Grant in Bayonne because his parents live far away in California. In her youth she worked as a cook for the Pichot family along with her best friend, Miss Emma. Tante Lou is a deeply religious woman and she supports Jefferson and Miss Emma and wants Grant to help them.5
4.4. Miss Emma
Emma Glenn, is Jefferson's godmother. Her only wish, before she leaves herself, is to see Jefferson dying with dignity so that they can be together in heaven.
4.5. Vivian Baptiste
Vivian is Grants mulatto girlfriend and lives in Bayonne. She also works as a schoolteacher but in contrast to Grant, she loves working as a teacher with the children.6
4.6. Reverend Ambrose
Reverend Mose Ambrose is the pastor at the plantation church. He is a believer without much formal education. He regularly visits Jefferson and Miss Emma, but comes into conflict with Grant because he believes that religion is the only way to impart dignity to Jefferson.7
4.7. Henri Pichot
Henri Pichot owns the plantation on which many of the people from the quarter work. Remembering the years of service by Miss Emma and Tante Lou he uses his influence on Sheriff Guidry, the local sheriff of the prison where Jefferson is kept, to allow Grant to visit Jefferson in prison.
4.8. Matthew Antoine
Grant’s teacher when he was in school, was Matthew Antoine. During his time of working he advised his students to leave the South because there would never be justice for the black. Grant is inspired for his lessons about dignity by him.
4.9. Deputy Paul Bonin
As a deputy Paul is better educated than many of the other police officers. During the novel, he becomes sympathetic to Jefferson and Grant.
In the 1940s where the action of the novel takes place, Racism plays an important role in the story. Government workers are the biggest offenders of racism. The judge and jury wrongly convicted Jefferson because he is African-American and they aren´t. White people expect colored people to act uneducated. Grant and Paul are the only people trying to solve this.8,9
"I have no idea." He stared at me, and I realized that I had not answered him in the proper manner. "Sir," I added.10
Even the way how colored people are supposed to speak to white people, shows how race determines everything about a person in their relationships with other people. Grant knows that he is supposed to call Henri "Sir", because as a white man Henri is superior to Grant.11
10Gaines, Ernest J.: A Lesson Before Dying. Stuttgart, 2008. Page 22.
The book starts, ends and revolves around death. People are confused on what to do and how to react. As we can see not only Jefferson is the one who get a lesson before dying. The case reflects on everybody living in the quarter, even on the white people. They know that there is no way out of death. Jefferson is the one who fears death the most but at the same time also the one who accept it the most.
Grant means that dignity comes from the level of education. But in the story it is not really like that because the skin color is more important to everyone. Reverend Ambrose believes that dignity can only come from faith in God. He says that everyone who does not have faith in God is undignified. At the end of the story Jefferson gives both men a lesson: dignity comes from loving and being loved. Talking about dignity religion, education or race never play a role.
How did Grant achieve it to make Jefferson a man? Thats the most important question. Going through many pain and get over many obstacles he finally can reach Jefferson. Telling him about how to be a hero to everyone, even to himself, Grant is able to give him the lesson he needs. He becomes a man by identifying and accepting himself as one.12
In the end of the story Jefferson dies a honorable death. Leaving a notebook, which he got from Grant he says: " i tol her i was strong an she didn need to come back no mo cause i was strong.“13 The deputy said to Grant that Jefferson was the strongest man in the execution room and that he should be proud. The last sentence of the novel says that Grant was crying after he got the message that Jeffersons is dead now.14
12Gaines, Ernest J.: A Lesson Before Dying. Stuttgart, 2008. Page 202.
Ernest J. Gaines shows the world the life of colored people and how racism affected their lifes. Through the character Grant he makes us think about if anything will change because there is still racism in our time, but for sure not as hard as back in the 1940s.
Book: A lesson befor dying. Ernest J. Gaines. 1993.
Gaines, Ernest J.: A Lesson Before Dying. Stuttgart, 2008.
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