A Lesson Before Dying by Grant Wiggins: Critical Analysis
Withdrawal of emotion and empathy are common symptom in people who struggle with depression. In the novel, A Lesson Before Dying, Grant promised his aunt’s friend, Miss Emma, that he would help her godson, Jefferson, keep hold of his pride after receiving the death penalty. Grant’s obligation to teach Jefferson how to die with dignity ultimately benefits Grant by allowing himself to connect with his empathic nature.
Grant Wiggins could be described as a lost soul. He constantly debates if it would be worth it to drop everything and start his life over somewhere else. Many of the relationships in his life are strained in some way, such as, Grant has spent most of his life away from his parents. He and his aunt are quite passive-aggressive towards each other. Vivian, his girlfriend, is frequently preoccupied with her kids and her divorce, in addition to, his former teacher, Matthew Antoine, constantly has told him to give up his dreams. The combination of these relationships has made him feel unwanted. When the jury reached the verdict that Jefferson had been found guilty. Grant goes to talk to Tante Lou and Miss Emma, “Her large dark face showed all the pain she has gone through this day… Jefferson is dead… There is nothing I can do about it” (14). He knows Miss Emma is in great anguish. Yet he still continues to talk in a blunt and crude manner. This exhibits a clear lack of empathy. Calling a living man, dead is cruel especially knowing the circumstances. Grant is aware of the pain a godmother may be compelled to be feeling knowing her godson is going to die for a crime, she believes he didn’t commit. After, meeting with Jefferson for a long while and finally seeing a bit of progress. He learns his student Irene wants to become a teacher and leaves her in charge of his class, “Leaving Irene Cole and Odessa Freeman in charge of classes I drove to Bayonne” (187). Although this is a small gesture, it shows a clear improvement, from when he smacked a child on the back of the head with a ruler for looking at an insect. Seeing the difference he is making with Jefferson he realizes that he will be able to help others as well. He is beginning to care about others and his actions are reflecting his feelings. Grant is starting to allow himself to feel again instead of suppressing his emotions.
Being an African-American male in 1940’s Louisiana, at the peak of segregation, he is constantly oppressed by his caucasian peers. He has gone through more education than most African Americans, they believe Grant thinks he is superior to them. This leaves him feeling isolated and like he doesn’t belong to either group. Learning how much Jefferson loves music he offers to buy him a radio. While being checked into the jail, the sheriff mispronounces batteries, “Yes sir batries…I had almost said batteries” (184). He does not correct the sheriff and decreases the intelligence of his language to avoid an argument so Jefferson can have a working radio, which reveals how much he cares about Jefferson’s happiness. Earlier in the novel, Grant was having a conversation with the sheriff and his brother-in-law and refused to dumb down his language which caused a bit of a quarrel. This event reveals definite progress in his selflessness, sacrificing his pride to make Jefferson’s last days a bit more enjoyable is a genuine act of kindness. After Jefferson was executed, Paul the deputy came to Grant’s school to give him Jefferson’s Journal the gift he wanted grant to keep. He tells him how Jefferson kept his head up and died with pride, “I saw the transformation, Grant Wiggins… I didn’t do it… maybe he did it himself” (254). Granny not taking credit for helping Jefferson demonstrates how the situation became more than just an obligation. His compassion for Jefferson became so strong that it taught him to be empathetic towards others. Shortly after, his conversation with Paul he begins to cry. Him crying represents the final release of emotion that he has been holding back for the entire novel. Grant’s journey with Jefferson taught him, not only, to care about others but take their emotions into account.
Grant Wiggins was always seen as a strong man but would hold back his feelings any chance he got. After, fulfilling his obligation to help Jefferson die with pride. He soon realized that in order to connect with someone, one must wear their heart on their sleeve. His relationship with Jefferson will continue to benefit Grant in his current romances and friendships as well as ones to come.
Yes, life has a way of teaching us lessons that we would never learn otherwise. Some of life’s lessons we would rather not have, some of what we learn we wish we did not have to. A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines does just this in an exemplary fashion. The novel is set in the late 1940s in Bayonne, Louisiana where two main characters, Grant and Jefferson, are engaged in a struggle to achieve self-respect in a society...
African American author and professor Ernest James Gaines once said, “A writer tries to write about what he is a part of.” He has rendered representations of his personal life experiences into true literary depictions of African Americans. Gaines was born in 1933 as a sharecropper’s oldest son on a poverty-ridden Louisiana plantation during the depression. As a young boy he labored the fields just as his ancestors had since harsh times of slavery. In his later years, he wrote...
In the American Novel, A Lesson Before Dying, Ernest J. Gaines confronts the societal contribution of racism and discrimination in the lives of African Americans, specifically in regards to young Jefferson, who is convicted of a crime he did not commit. However, protagonist Grant Wigins, in light of all of the injustice, helps Jefferson become an example of positive change in the African American community, denying the habitual cruelty of the past. Jefferson is a simple-minded, black, young adult who...
The experiences that people go through in life can shape how they look at life and other people in society. Many people change their perspectives about life based on the lessons that they learn along the way. Change is important in the life of an individual. No one can categorize change as positive or negative before they see the outcomes. Ernest J. Gaines’ book, A Lesson before Dying, is among the works of literature that show the importance of change...
In the novel, A Lesson Before Dying, written by Ernest J. Gaines, a African-American who goes by the name, Jefferson is being convicted for a murder he “committed”. With the day in age Gaines sets his book in, it is easily identified with how the work of his book is going to play out. From beginning to end we a change in both Grant and Jefferson that define this story as it is known today. Sometimes it takes death to...
Ernest J Gaines wrote A Lesson Before Dying to share that despite what society thinks of you, you have the power to define who you are. He uses symbols, and figurative language to show the mutual development of Jefferson and Grant throughout the story.Gaines uses the symbol of the window to represent freedom for Jefferson. The window is an opening to the outside world. When Grant and his nannan first visit Jefferson at the jail, Grant noted the window was...
After reading the first chapter of A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines, I immediately made a connection to To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I decided to reread the trial from To Kill a Mockingbird and compare it to the trial in A Lesson Before Dying. The obvious connection is that black men are convicted of crimes that they evidently did not commit. However, since the men live in racist communities, they are essentially guilty until proven...
Ernest J. Gaines’ novel, A Lesson Before Dying, focuses on men and particularly the “lesson” about how to be a man. The novel follows Grant Wiggins’ progress after being tasked with the job to teach a young man, Jefferson, before he is unjustly killed for a crime he did not commit. Although the main characters are men, it is, in fact, the women in their lives who have the most significant influence over their decisions and actions. Miss Emma, Tante...
In A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J Gaines, addresses a few of the major race and identity issues that plagued the United States past and in some ways still linger into the present. The character which the memoir takes place in the 1940s and revolves around a character which goes by the name of Jefferson. He is a man who is mentally slow, somewhat literate and becomes the innocent bystander to a shootout with two black robbers and a...
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