Racism and African-American Family Breakdown as Themes in

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Iconic Contemporary Themes Displayed:

Ernest J. Gaines's A Lesson Before Dying

"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..." (3). Ernest J. Gaines begins his contemporary masterpiece with a captivating and explosive first paragraph. Immediately capturing the reader's attention, the fast paced novel takes us on a voyage of thematic discovery. Through the voice of Grant Wiggins, a school teacher disgruntled by his constant struggle for communal equality, we learn of the present conditions that face our central characters and the contemporary themes that sum up the novel.

Racism is announced at the forefront of the story. The reader is quickly made aware of the racial barriers that exist throughout Bayonne. For reasons of racial injustice Jefferson is not allotted a fair trial to determine his guilt or innocence. Instead, the inevitable prevails as the judge and jury have made up their minds solely upon the color of the accused skin. Another example of racism takes place at the small school Grant teaches at. Although he is a very strict teacher who seems to vent his frustration towards his students, he desires better learning tools for them, in particular textbooks (57). Of course, his questioning of a white superior is immediately challenged, and he is forced to back down. The effects of racism are the driving force of the novel and are painfully experienced by our two protagonists time and time again. Although not pinned up and condemned to death physically, Grant sees himself as an educated black man who is mentally incapacitated by means of inescapable racism. Grant resents not only the whites for their racist actions, but...

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...g. New York: Vintage Books, 1993.

Gaines, Ernest J., and Dale Brown. "Interview With Ernest J. Gaines." Soujourners Sept.-Oct. 2002: 30-33. Gale Literary Database. Bryan Wildenthal Memorial Library, Alpine. 10 Nov. 2005. Keyword: Ernest J. Gaines.

Lockhart, Leslie. "Review of A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines." Black Scholar Spring 1995: 65-71. Gale Literary Database. Bryan Wildenthal Memorial Library, Alpine. 10 Nov. 2005. Keyword: A Lesson Before Dying.

Vancil, David E. "Redemption according to Ernest J. Gaines." African American Review Fall 1994: 489-491. Gale Literary Database. Bryan Wildenthal Memorial Library, Alpine. 10 Nov. 2005. Keyword: Gaines.

Wardi, Anissa J. "Review of A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines." Melus Summer 1996: 192-194. Gale Literary Database. Bryan Wildenthal Memorial Library, Alpine. 10 Nov. 2005. Keyword: Gaines.

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