A Lesson Before Dying Book Review

A Lesson Before Dying: Racial Segregation and Injustice

A lesson before dying which is written by Ernest J. Gaines is set in late 1940s in a town of Bayonne. This novel portrays a time when racial segregation was on its peak and allowed. The black people could barely think about recognition of them being humans and were denied of all basic human rights.

Grant Wiggins goes to Prison to visit Jefferson

Grant Wiggins is the protagonist of the novel and as described by the writer that he was employed in a menial job which he left for getting education. The writer made him different in every aspect and wanted his character to be leading in every way. He came back from college as an educated and secular man with a very unique perspective. However, at the same time he was still considered inferior which hurts him but he is never found reacting against it in any manner. The rage which was building inside him turned him bitter and self-absorbed and stopped him from helping his community which he thought cannot help that.

The Transformation of Grant and Jefferson

Jefferson on the other hand is the novel’s second protagonist and both Grant and Jefferson survived due to support of each other. The novel revolved around Jefferson, his conviction which was unjust and attempts made by friends to ensure that if he dies, he dies with dignity which a human should have. Grant was a free man but as he was in his self-created mental jail which was created due to hate of whites and the need for equal rights. He became a teacher but instead of helping students he started humiliating them. As Grant took the task for making Jefferson a man, it was important for the writer to make Grant a changed man depicts him as the man he was when he came back from college. The perception of Grant changes throughout the novel due to the visits he made to Jefferson and due to his meetings with Vivian, Ambrose and Tante Lou. The writer wanted his character to start liking others instead of moving back to his space. His visits showed that he was a person who wanted to fix the community and had no limits for his passion about it. The writer used his reluctant behavior with his visits to the prison to show that one has to pass through situations which are not liked by him to bring changes as most of the times no quick fixes are present. Grant’s views on conviction of Jefferson were straight forward as he once said that “How do people come up with a date and time to take life from another man? Who made them God?”

Miss Emma's Faith and Determination

Miss Emma who in the novel is always with her friend Tante Lou is always found encouraging each other in hard times. Miss Emma is a character who believes in God and believes that change will come through hard-work and dedication only. She is never portrayed as stereotype black woman by the writer throughout the novel. The writer made her personality a strong and family loving black woman. Miss Emma in the novel is usually found saying encouraging words to other as “We’re teachers, and we have a commitment.” “Commitment to what—to live and die in this hellhole, when we can leave and live like other people?”

Miss Emma's Request and Grant's Transformation

It was Miss Emma who asked Grant to visit Jefferson in the prison and make him die like a man with dignity. She asked Grant that “I don’t want them to kill no hog . . . . I want a man to go to that chair, on his own two feet.” As Jefferson who spent all his life working in a plantation without any outbursts or protests and accepted that it is how his life is about be. He was referred as a mindless hog by his lawyer which made him feel terrified and he started believing that he is no better than a hog. Miss Emma observing everything Miss Emma put things in motion and asked Sheriff Guidry to allow Grant visit Jefferson in prison. Grants at first thought that it will be impossible to change Jefferson to what he wanted, but at least it can be seen that he changed by the unlimited help provided by Grant. Jefferson finally started believing in his worth and understood that his death can have an importance in the community he lived in. Miss Emma knew that Grant also needs help and it was possible by helping someone else that is another reason for Miss Emma choosing Grant instead of Ambrose who actually was a religious figure. An act of kindness can change his attitude and beat his inner demons which were making him an emotional cripple like his teacher. Miss Emma wanted as she knew that Grant is educated but due to what happened with him has changed him as insensitive and immature. He wants the leadership but he needs it without any responsibilities and the course might change his behavior to what is required for him the most to become a hero. At the same time, she also wanted to help Jefferson to die a death of a dignified human being.

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