Grant Wiggins is the narrator of the novel. He was born in the plantation just outside of Bayonne, Louisiana. He lived there until he went away to college, and when he went back home, he was detached from the people in the town because of his education and different religious beliefs. He is easily angered and often very selfish. This is seen in the way that he acts towards Vivian. He consistently does not give her the attention or respect that she deserves. He refers to her children as simply, “the babies,” and only cares about the names of his and Vivian’s future children. Grant goes from shallow and selfish at the beginning of the story, to caring and loving at the end. Jefferson is an honest, young black man with below-average …show more content…
Although she wants Jefferson to die as a man, she does not seem to try to make him a man, as Grant does. Vivian is Grant’s beautiful, passionate, and smart girlfriend. She teaches at a black Catholic school in Bayonne. During the book she is married, but separated from her husband, so her relationship with Grant is kept a secret. She has two small children with her husband. Vivian loves Grant but often distrusts him because of his lack of loyalty to his people and hometown. Sheriff Sam Guidry is both a white supremacist and a decent man. At the beginning of the novel he is ignorant and extremely racist towards Grant and Jefferson. He views black people as unintelligent, but when changes start to show in both Jefferson and Grant, he learns otherwise. By the end of the novel, he is nice to Jefferson, and allows more visiting sessions for longer amounts of time. He starts to show signs of respect and compassion to Jefferson.
Main Setting The book takes place in the 1940s in mostly the plantation outside of Bayonne, Louisiana, and parts of the book take place in Bayonne, Louisiana. Bayonne is a larger town of about six thousand with all services and buildings for whites uptown, and all those for blacks in the back of town. There were schools, movie theaters, and nightclubs in both the white and black sides of town, but the
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In A Lesson Before Dying by author Ernest J Gaines, Grant is the protagonist who is trying to do the right thing for his people. Grant is in a very turbulent situation, having to make Jefferson into a “man” by the time he is executed. This is the central plot of the story, but not the main themes and ideas of it. Grant is struggling to help Jefferson because he sees generations of injustice through him. “’We got our first load of wood last week,’ [Grant] told him. ‘Nothing changes,’ he said.” (Gaines, 53). The response Grant’s teacher gives him has a deeper meaning: he as Grants’ teacher failed to change the injustice and racism and Grant is in the same situation. “Nothing changes”, but Grant does not give up for the sake of Jefferson, his people, and most importantly, himself. At one point, Grant actually reveals that “it is too heavy a burden because of all the others who have run away and left their burdens behind. So, he,
Wiggins true character is revealed. In saying, " ‘Are you trying to hurt me, Jefferson? Are you trying to make me feel guilty for your being here? You want me to come back here anymore?’ " (84). He is trying to figure out if there is anyway possible to get out of the situation brought to him. Grant believes if he can get Jefferson’s consent he will no longer have to do something he doesn’t what to do. The only problem is that Grant need Jefferson more than he knows. This is brought out when he starts to talk about leaving the farm in which he grew up. On page 94, the author has a series of quotes of Mr. Wiggins and Vivian that say, " ‘I wish I could just run away from this place.’ Vivian shook her head.
Even his college education has not elevated his position in the eyes of the white society. When he was talking with white people, he was expected to act stupid and hide his education and assume the subservient role of a black. As in Grant’s visit to Mr. Guidry the first time. " ‘She doesn’t, huh?’ Sam Guidry asked me. He emphasized doesn’t. I was supposed to have said don’t. I was being too smart" (48).
The setting of the novel is a rural plantation in Louisiana in the Deep South. Most of the story takes place on Henri Pichot’s plantation. He is a wealthy influential man in Bayonne who can influence many decisions. Being set in the 1940’s before civil rights, the whites reigned supreme, and the blacks were still seen as inferior. Gaines uses characters such as Sheriff Guidry, Henri Pichot, and Mr. Joseph Morgan to demonstrate the white mentality towards African Americans (Poston A1). The white mentality causes many negative feelings. Folks says, “Part of Grant’s bitterness stems from his negative feelings about the black population in his hometown” (Folks B1). Grant is always mad and discouraged by the vicious cycle the blacks are put through. “The reader is able to gain insight into Grant’s thoughts and frustrations through his conversations with Vivian, his girlfriend. He feels trapped in his present situation” (Poston A1).
The Jim Crow Era was peak time for segregation causing Jefferson’s journey in the novel, A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines to open up the eyes of many, no matter what one’s skin color is, by showing what it means to die as a hero even when seen as the villain. Grant is to make Jefferson a man before he dies by showing him the truths about religion, race, and the United States justice system. Jefferson also teaches Grant a few things about life, creating a unique bond between the two.
Grant is constantly having an eternal battle within himself on whether or not he is willing to take action against the white despotism. When Jefferson 's case is first brought up to Grant by Miss Emma and his aunt, he responds by saying, “Yes, I’m the teacher...And I teach what the white folks around here tell me to teach—reading, writing, and ’rithmetic. They never told me how to keep a black boy out of a liquor store" (Gaines ch 2). His whole education has revolved around the white system and what they want him to know and do. He feels that because he has been taught by the white-American
Despite this, Grant unwillingly agrees to help and begins visiting Jefferson in prison. After several visits and no progress, one night Grant talks with Vivian and expresses to her that he is wasting his time and that they should escape this town together. However, nearing the end of the book, upon buying Jefferson a radio, Grant realizes that he has been too focused on what he wants, and decides that contrary to what he believes he can help Jefferson, and the town he lives in (Gaines 180). Because Grant has two equally compelling desires, although not compelling in the same way, to choose between, the choice he does make is magnified because of the conflict within himself. This conflict not only helps reflect on Grant’s development as a character, but even more stresses the books theme of assuming responsibility.
When a young author from New York City decides to take a trip to the southern city of Savannah, he finds himself falling in love with the town and ends up renting an apartment. He encounters many different characters, including Danny Hansford and Jim Williams, that gives the reader a good look into the aura of Savannah. The main conflict in the book occurs when a murder happens in an old mansion located in the town. The book follows the progression of the trial and the outcome following the court’s decision.
Grant Wiggins is very conflicted and confused about many aspects of his life when he comes back to his home town. Despite his reluctance, he is eventually forced to overcome his defeatist attitude and accept the sense of responsibility that Tante Lou and Miss Emma are trying to instill in him. Grant is also haunted by his past having grown up in a very racist small town which he could never find a way to deal with.
The women that surround Grant in “A Lesson Before Dying” by Ernest Gaines are all catalysts for his eventual change away from the bitterness and doubts. Without Miss Emma or Tante Lou, it seems natural to conclude that Grant would have stagnated in his despair and spent his life feeling angry and irritable. However, since Emma and Tante Lou force Grant to go visit Jefferson and keep him motivated to stick with the task they’ve assigned him, they can be said to be the real force in the novel—rather than Grant.
As a teacher, Grant was a bitter person. He was bitter because he could only see the ignorant side of the situation. This was because Grant in the beginning refuses to see the optimistic side of what could happen for the better, but instead only views the side that there was no way in hoping for the better. This was demonstrated when Grant explained to the students that he was only a teacher he couldn’t change an adult into becoming a ‘man’ and that had been why he was teaching the students how to become a man so that they wouldn’t have to go through what Jefferson was going through (Gaines 39).
Becoming a highly analyzed novel, many critics speak about their feelings. Carl Senna, one a literary critic, discusses the reasons for lack of communication in A Lesson before Dying. A large part of their communication problem comes directly from their class differences. Although Grant is not considered rich, he is well educated and lives rather comfortably, whereas Jefferson is nearly illiterate and has been a struggling farmhand most of his life. This gap that separates them makes it very difficult for them to speak. Neither one of them is at fault for this, but it frustrates Jefferson to the point where he often wants to leave the jail cell and not return. Also Grant speaks with Jefferson "reluctantly, prompted by his aunt, a moralizing scold and a nag"(Senna 5). Another good point Senna makes is that because of the time period, blacks were struggling to become equals and were more engrossed with their own wants and needs than worrying about Jefferson. Yes, they all realized that he is innocent but they are not at a time where they can fight for the innocence of this young boy. Therefore Grant "becomes their instrument in trying to save him[Jefferson] from disgrace"(Senna 5). Jefferson was not seen as much to these
December 18, 1865, marked the end of African-American slavery in America, where-by black people gained more freedom in the land. However, a power imbalance between the black and white is still present. A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines gives readers insight to the immense abuse and hatred towards black people in the 1940s of America and furthers the reader's knowledge of black segregation and how the black people never gave up for their freedom and rights. The novel’s main plot follows Grant Wiggins, a young black man who was given the responsibility to make Jefferson, a black man who was unjustifiably accused of murder and sentenced to death by electrocution become truly a man and not a “hog” which is what the lawyer labeled Jefferson as. Throughout the novel, readers can recognize the great bond created as Grant encourages and aids Jefferson in becoming a man before his “judgment day”. Nevertheless, the novel was not only about Jefferson’s lesson before his death, but it was a lesson for many other characters in the novel. The most important lesson to learn before dying is the lesson of never give up, which can be seen through the actions of Jefferson, Miss Emma, and Grant.
Although Grant had graduated College and is known as the educated man in town, he still feels very inferior to the whites. His knowledge meant nothing to any one of them. As a teacher Grant fears for the future of his students, because he feels like any wrong-doing of theirs will impact others perspectives on what he taught them. "Exactly what I'm trying to do here with you now: to make you responsible young men and young ladies. But you, you prefer to play with bugs. You refuse to study your arithmetic, and you prefer writing slanted sentences instead of straight ones. Does that make any sense?" (5.47) the following statement also signifies that Grant became harsh with his students, not because it was done from cruelty but because he felt as if his people had been laughed at enough: "You were supposed to say, 'You were looking out the window, Mr. Wiggins,' not 'you was looking out the window, Mr. Wiggins.' Get back in that corner and face the wall and stay there."
Grant Wiggins is a black male in 1940’s America. He teaches school at a plantation church for children from kindergarten to 6th grade. Grant is a complex and well-rounded character yet often decides to only do things that immediately benefit himself. For example when Miss Emma and Tante Lou asked him to go see Jefferson he found no point in it for himself so he was strongly against going. This shows he is a self-centered person. Wiggins also easily gives up as when he was tired of the stresses of his town he wanted his married girlfriend to pick up and leave with him. I believe he grows as a character through helping Jefferson.