Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Lesson Before Dying

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“I was not there, yet I was there. No, I did not go to the trial, I did not hear the verdict, because I knew all the time what it would be...” So begins Grant Wiggins, the narrator of Ernest J. Gaines,’ A Lesson Before Dying. Within the novel, university educated, Grant, returns to the tiny plantation town of his youth, where the only job available to him is teaching in the small plantation church school. Grant, trapped in a career he doesnt enjoy, eaten up by resentment at his station in life, and angry by the injustice he sees all around him, allows one to confront the demands of his passions and responsibilities in the novel.

Grant confronts a responsibility brought to him by his aunt, with extreme rejection. Although he rejects this responsibility, Tante Lou forces him to undertake this issue. Tante Lou perceives that Grant ought to save their community, through the fact that he is educated. Grant however, considers this matter as unjust and obligatory rather than being a responsibility. He appears fairly selfish in the novel, mainly considerate of himself and lacks the awareness of his obligation. Grant focuses more on his passion and less on what is right. His passion is what controls his perception of living life; he believes

that he should live better than his people or rather be superior to them, due to his education.

As Grant struggles to impart a sense of pride to Jefferson, the accused of killing a white shopkeeper, Grant also learns an important lesson. This responsibility, to somehow educate this man, in the start of the novel, sends Grant into complete indignation. Having to pause his search for hope, he becomes angry with the people who he lives amongst. Being accustom of teaching Jefferson to become a “man,” Grant doesn’t want to lose his rank within his people, meaning that he does not want to lose his credibility from his aunt and to resist this lost he must go on with this responsibility and attempt to ignore the white society.

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As Wiggins begins to visit Jefferson they both commence in changing their negative attitudes about their situation and perceptions of life. Grant taught Jefferson to be a “man” and no matter what others assume, Jefferson will always be a man. Grant gains great respect from Jefferson and for Jefferson, when Jefferson’s death was taking place. He told his class that “in a couple of minutes it will be 100 p.m., I will ask you to get down on your knees and remain on your knees until I ask you to get up.”(50) This shows that his attitude towards Jefferson turns to compassion for his time of death, and by assisting him in becoming this “man,” he obtains recognition for his doing.

Wiggins’ attempt to make Jefferson a “man,” shows the potential he possesses, which reflects upon the rest of the community. This challenge demonstrates the extent that blacks had to go through to show how well they confirmed their role in society.

Grant’s acceptance in society remains significant to his well being because it builds his self-esteem, and paves the way for the many generations to come, giving them the chance that others were not given. Moreover, Grant’s conflict between his passion and responsibility allows the reader to sympathize for him, and situate themselves between choosing what seems morally right for ones community or for ones self being.

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