A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

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Introduction According to his biography, Ernest J. Gaines grew up in Oscar, Louisiana on a plantation in the 1930s. He worked picking potatoes for 50 cents a day, and in turn used his experiences to write six books, including A Lesson Before Dying. While the novel is fictional, it is based on the hardships faced by blacks in a post Civil War South, under Jim Crow and 'de jure' segregation. In A Lesson Before Dying, the main story line is a sad tale in which a young black man named Jefferson, is wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. Grant Wiggins, a teacher, is persuaded by Jefferson's grandmother Miss Emma to help Jefferson become a man before his execution. The struggle for Grant to get Jefferson to cooperate, and Grant's own internal development are the main plot-points; however, the background commentary on systems of racism is the main theme. Summary & Review The story opens with Grant recalling the trial and events leading up to it. Jefferson was on his way to a bar when he was offered a ride by two young black men. The trio went to hold up a liquor store to get drinks, but didn't have enough to pay. The two men demand to get drinks on credit and a shootout ensued, leaving Jefferson panicked in the aftermath. He grabs the money behind the counter, takes a drink and begins to run when two white men walk into the store. Of course, a young black man going to trial after the Civil War until the end of Jim Crow is bound to be unfairly and unjustly sentenced. Black men, even today are sometimes treated as guilty until proven otherwise. The prosecution spins the story, saying the three men went to the store with the intent to rob and murder Alcee Grope, the store owner. Jefferson was also accused of taking money and celebra... ... middle of paper ... ...f execution by the state, blacks also faced vigilante justice by lynching. According to statistics given by the Tuskegee Institute, 3,446 blacks were lynched between 1882 and 1968 . Lynching was not court sanctioned execution, it was mob justice. Jefferson was accused of murder and robbery, and his fate was sealed. Works Cited DeWitt, P. (2008). Scottsboro and Its Legacy: The Cases That Challenged American Legal and Social Justice. History: Reviews Of New Books, 36(3), 89-92. Gaines, E. (1993). A lesson before dying. (1st ed.). New York City: Vintage Books. Ernest James Gaines. (2013). The Biography Channel website. Retrieved 01:34, Nov 10, 2013, from http://www.biography.com/people/ernest-j-gaines-9304930. "Lynchings: By State and Race, 1882–1968". University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. "Statistics provided by the Archives at Tuskegee Institute."
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