Human Dignity in A Lesson Before Dying Essay

1353 Words 6 Pages
Human Dignity in A Lesson Before Dying

Grant and Jefferson are on a journey. Though they have vastly different educational backgrounds, their commonality of being black men who have lost hope brings them together in the search for the meaning of their lives. In the 1940’s small Cajun town of Bayonne, Louisiana, blacks may have legally been emancipated, but they were still enslaved by the antebellum myth of the place of black people in society. Customs established during the years of slavery negated the laws meant to give black people equal rights and the chains of tradition prevailed leaving both Grant and Jefferson trapped in mental slavery in their communities.

The struggles of Grant and Jefferson share a common theme, man’s
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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).

Of law, education and religion, one had to empower Jefferson and Grant. The law was clearly outside their realm of influence. However, education opened the door for Jefferson and Grant to share dialogue and to explore who they were and how they could be empowered. It was religion, their search for a greater meaning and a higher power, which allowed them to begin to think not of what white men thought of them, but rather what God and what they thought of themselves. With this new way of thinking, they forged a bond and both began to understand the simple heroic act of resistance in defying the expectation of white society that they were members of a lesser race " ‘Do you know what a myth is, Jefferson?’ I asked him. ‘A myth is an old lie that people believe in. White people believe that they are better than anyone else on earth—and that’s a myth. The last thing they ever want is to see a black man stand, and think and show that common humanity that is in us all. It would destroy their myth’ " (192).

Grant encouraged Jefferson to live beyond the stereotype