The main theme of the a lesson before dying is sacrifice and how it can lead to better outcomes. A lesson before dying is a novel by Ernest Gaines that takes place in a fictional town in Louisiana in the 1940’s or pre-civil rights. One of the characters, Jefferson, is going to be put to death for a crime he did not commit, and the main character Grant is being forced by Jefferson’s godmother to teach him to be a man before he dies. Sacrifice is the act of giving up or surrendering a person or value for a better object but does it mean more than that in “A Lesson Before Dying”?
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,
Grant helped Jefferson to become a better person. With the help of Grant people saw the change in Jefferson since he was accused until the day of the execution. After the execution of Jefferson, Paul meets with Grant and he explains to Grant,“He never could have done that. I saw the transformation. I’m a witness to that”(254). This quote reveals the transformation that Paul saw by Jefferson, and Paul knows that no one could have moved Jefferson like Grant did. Grant changing Jefferson supports the idea that Jefferson was a better person, and that Grant is a hero because people saw the change in Jefferson, and Grant helped change Jefferson for others and had no selfishness. No one knows exactly what Grant did to change Jefferson, but the town, especially paul, all saw that Jefferson connected with Grant and changed with Grants help. The change that Grant made with Jefferson shows that he is a hero because others saw the impact that he had. Heros have an impact on people without even knowing and the change with Jefferson is exactly what happened with Grant changing Jefferson, he didn’t know how big of change he made. Grant teaches Jefferson that he has to love his family and the impact that it will have. Grant says to Jefferson that he owes something to Miss Emma, so he states, “No matter how bad off we are, we still owe something. You own something,
These things give us more information about Grant himself and the world he’s living in. For example, Grant thinks to himself: “Had Jefferson ever hit a home run?... You had to hit it just right, and that took timing and luck. Lily Green hit as many as anyone else… But her luck ran out before she was twenty. Killed accidentally in a barroom in Baton Rouge.” (Gaines, 198) This one quote shows us that Grant is connecting the current events to the past events which is a recurring theme in the story. Grant first wonders about Jefferson and his time in school and then reminisces about his own time in school. Many from Grant’s generation is already dead. This is significant because a theme in the story is that of progression and change. Grant is trying his best to break out of a vicious cycle of racism by educating the younger generation. When Jefferson is sentenced to death Grant is devastated because he thinks nothing is changing. This is proven when Grant thinks to himself: “What am I doing? Am I reaching them at all? They are acting exactly as the old men did earlier. They are fifty years younger, mayber more, but doing the same thing those old men did who never attended school a day in their lives.” (Gaines, 51) This inner monologue reveals crucial information about the true subject of the story. It is not just a story about a one-time incident in a small town; it is painting a bigger picture of what racism is. Gaines expertly
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.
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.
For the majority of the novel, Grant denies that he can help Jefferson in any way at all. When his aunt and Miss Emma request that Grant go talk to Jefferson to teach him that he is a man, Grant explains, "It is only a matter of weeks, maybe a couple of months – but he's already dead…All I can do is try to keep the others from ending up like this…There's nothing I can do anymore, nothing any of us can do anymore" (14). Before receiving extreme pressure from his aunt to comply, Grant goes so far as to refuse to even attempt to help Jefferson. With this attitude that "There's nothing [he] can do anymore," Grant can, in fact, do nothing. Even though Grant correctly recognizes the fact that Jefferson will die in a short while, he fails to acknowledge the possibility of working through the injustices to make a difference. Grant, himself, feels stuck in his environment – he is "just running in place" there – yet he feels a sort of responsibility for his people and an attraction to the town, and cannot bring himself to leave (15). In order to "try to keep the others from ending up like" Jefferson, Grant wants to help his students, but he fails to respect them (14). If Grant has a bad day, he takes out his anger on his students, slapping them on the back of the head for playing with an insect, or sending them to the corner for an hour
I think that Grant Wiggins hates his town a lot but also loves his town and does not want to leave his town. He has so many memories, people to care about, and duties to attend to in his town. He also has a lot of pride with the people that he has grown up with in Louisiana. He has basically lived his whole life in Louisiana, and basically if you have lived your whole life somewhere you are more likely to stay there. “I was seventeen then. I was not the youngest, nor surely the oldest” (Gaines 88). He had been doing things in Louisiana since he was very young. Another reason why he would not want to leave his town is because the people he grew up with and his town always were in things together, “Everybody knew everybody, everybody knew everybody
Leaning on her ability to persuade, and using her power as an extensive friend to Tante Lou she can basically tell Grant what to do and gets away with it. She knew Grant did not want to go and teach Jefferson, but still went ahead with it. Driving along the St. Charles River I could feel Emma not looking at me, not looking at anything..just thinking. Like my Aunt she knew how much I hated all of this.(p.68) Miss Emma therefore forces Grant to do matters that she wants, not what Grant thinks he is capable of doing. Thirdly, Vivian, the love of his life, is also limiting Grant's ability to make decisions based strictly on his own intent. She understands Grant's need to leave and see new things, but has restrictions in her life that will not allow her to help Grant begin a new existence. Vivian is in the middle of a drawn out divorce and needs to see it through so she can maintain custody of her children. We see an example of this on page 93. Let's go somewhere and spend the night. Baton Rouge, New Orleans- anywhere, Grant asks. I can't, My Babies. This sentence alone describes the turmoil she is going through with her own threatening aspects and how it effects Grant's choices. I think the book is an intriguing novel and surfaced important issues dealt with in society. Religion, racism, and many other articles of today are just a few. But, Grant is a complex character and can be depicted thoroughly. His education holds him
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
At the beginning of the book, Grant more than anyone else hated Jefferson and refused to teach Jefferson how to become a man, but after a few visits to the cell Grant became Jefferson’s friend. Grant became one of the few he could trust and share his thoughts with. Jefferson opened up to grant and took his advice for granted. At that point, Grant completely transformed from an angry man to a loving and caring person. Grant realized what it was to actually be a man and how a man becomes a hero! A
Jefferson is a peculiar character in that the story is centred on his existence and, although his thoughts and opinions are seldom expressed, the lessons he learnt are completely unambiguous. As the tragic story goes, he is a very young black man unjustly condemned to death for a crime he did not commit. Furthermore, he is dehumanized in his defence when he is called a “hog” and this detrimentally affects his self esteem throughout a significant portion of the novel. However, this melancholic situation he is thrust into and his initial reaction to it is contrasted against his final moment which unashamedly reveals just how much he has learnt in his incarceration period. Jefferson, through the guidance of Grant, learns about the notion of dignity, a peculiarity that drives people towards the pinnacle of human
The setting in a book can affect how the reader views and understands the novel. The setting is a very important part of a book, whether it is important the setting stays the same in the book, or if the storyline is flexible enough that the setting can change. In the book “A Lesson Before Dying”, the setting is very important to the storyline. In this case, the storyline is not flexible enough to be set at any other time, than the 1940’s. It is very important it is set during this time because the views and understanding of race back then, makes a huge contribution to the understanding of the novel. The fact that Jefferson is treated differently and looked at differently
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.