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 innocent. As a result, their lawyers are forced to come up with distinctive and creative ways to prove their client’s innocence. In A Lesson Before Dying, the defense attorney tries to convince the members of the jury that Jefferson is too foolish and unintelligent to have orchestrated the robbery. Conversely, Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird calls into question Mayella, the plaintiff, and her father’s credibility. One thing that I also noticed is that the lawyers use reputation to emphasize their points. For example, Jefferson’s attorney says, “Gentleman of the jury, look at this-this-this boy”. He does this to show that he does not know what to call Jefferson—is he man or is he just a boy who is incapable of committing the crime he is accused of (Gaines 7). Atticus states that witnesses testifying against Tom Robinson are “confident that you gentleman would go along with their assumption- that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negroes are not to be trusted around women…” to stress that it would be wrong to assume that Tom is guilty solely because he is black (Lee 273). Another thing I noticed was the similarity of each lawyer’s closing arguments. Atticus tries to appeal the juror’s integrity by saying that there is no equality in the United States except for the courtroom. The attorney in A Lesson Before Dying, using pathos to appeal to the juror’s emotions by stating that Jefferson means everything to godmother and without him, her life would be meaningless. What surprised me was a difference in the tone of each passage. The tone in To Kill a Mockingbird is formal and educated, but the tone in A Lesson Before Dying is arrogant and nasty.
I felt that this book letter would not be complete without talking about Jefferson. Jefferson is an interesting character for many reasons, but what I find most interesting is his resemblance to Jesus. I mean if you think about it, they are both martyrs. Jesus was executed for his religious beliefs and Jefferson is murdered largely because of his race. Furthermore, they both die with a burden. Jesus died with his sins and Christians believe that his death allowed mankind to atone for its sins. Jefferson’s burden is to break the myth that white people are superior to black people. Grant tells Jefferson, “I want you to chip away at the myth by standing. I want you—yes, you—to call them liars. I want you to show them that you are as much a man—more a man than they can ever be” (Gaines 192). Jefferson can rid the myth from society by showing everyone that he is a man—and not a hog—before he dies. I also realized that they were both killed during the springtime, which is a time for rebirth. Jesus’ death was a rebirth for Christians and Jefferson’s death can be seen as a rebirth for black people because Jefferson demonstrates bravery as he is killed and thus destroys the myth. Also, some people believe that Jesus was crucified between noon and three, which is when Jefferson dies.
I wish I had more space to go on because there is so much more to say. Overall, I am glad I read A Lesson Before Dying and had the opportunity to reflect on what I read.