Theme Of Racism In A Lesson Before Dying

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Racism is an umbrella term to describe how people of colour are systematically disadvantaged in society; socially, politically, and economically. Racism is also the central theme of Ernest Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying. Gaines uses setting to illustrate how racism and the memories of slavery haunt Grant and other black characters in the novel. Setting is used to visualize how racism in the small town of Bayonne, Alabama was evident on all levels. The door they were subject to use at Henry Pichot’s house admonished them of their social status, the crime scene and execution that was predetermined by Jim Crow law and the plantation fields that they lived on, the lurking shadow of their economic prejudice.
In pre-Civil Rights Movement, Southern U.S., racism was at its height; as a result, black Americans were ranked lowest on the social ladder. Through the setting of Henry Pichot’s house and the location of bathrooms, Gaines highlights how racism is shown through social status. When Miss Emma and Tante Lou entered Pichot’s mansion, Grant “followed them…up the stairs to the back door” (Gaines 16). Grant was reminded that “he had not come through that back door once since leaving for the university, ten years before” (16). The simple gesture of entering through the back door was a symbol of their lower-class status and the racism Grant could not
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Socially; they fought oppression through segregated bathrooms and entering through the back door. Politically; Jim Crow laws segregated prisons and being at a crime scene determining a black man’s fate. Economically; rustic homes and plantation fields became symbols of the inescapable poverty. Institutionalized racism has plagued the world and anti-blackness exists on all levels. So, it is important that society addresses racism and understand that hundreds of years of oppression cannot be undone
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