The Evolution of Grant in Ernest J. Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying Essay

The Evolution of Grant in Ernest J. Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying Essay

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After the Civil War ended, many blacks and whites, especially in the South, continued living as if nothing had changed with regards to the oppression and poor treatment of African Americans. Narrator Grant Wiggins, of Ernest J. Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying, possesses a similar attitude toward race relations. Through his experiences with a young man wrongly accused of murder, Grant transforms from a pessimistic, hopeless, and insensitive man into a more selfless and compassionate human being who can see the possibility of change in relations between whites and blacks.

Grant Wiggins, one of the few black men of the time to have a college education, lives with his aunt on a plantation just outside Bayonne, Louisiana in 1948, and teaches at the all-black school held at the all-black plantation church. Considering the poor relations between blacks and whites at the time in which the story is set, it comes as no surprise that Grant sees tension frequently in his community – not only through the ways in which persons of various races treat one another, but also in the justice, or lack thereof, served in court cases. The white authorities accuse Jefferson, an innocent student Grant taught a few years prior, of first-degree murder. During the trial, Jefferson's state-appointed defense lawyer pleads for the jury to have sympathy on Jefferson as he is a hog and does not possess the intelligence to commit the crimes of which he is accused. Because the whites dominate the society, the court finds Jefferson guilty as charged and the judge sentences him to death by electrocution. Upon hearing the verdict, Miss Emma, Jefferson's aunt, resolves to persuade Grant to teach Jefferson that he is, in fact, a man – not a hog – and to get him to wal...


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...statements as truth reveals Grant's transformation into a selfless, compassionate, and optimistic man. Grant realizes he has made mistakes and does not desire to be esteemed higher than he believes he deserves. Paul expresses his desire to befriend Grant, thus breaking the barriers of race and reaching out to Grant. Grant returns to his classroom, crying, a changed man.




Work Cited

Gaines, Ernest J. A Lesson before Dying. New York: Vintage, 1993.


Works Consulted

Folks, Jeffrey. “Communal responsibility in Ernest J. Gaines‘s A Lesson Before Dying. Mississippi Quarterly 52.2 (1999): 253

Piacentino, Ed. “The Common humanity that is in us all”: Toward Racial Reconciliation in Gaines’s A Lesson Before Dying.” Southern Quarterly 42.3 (2004): 71

Vancil, David. “Redemption According to Ernest Gaines,” African American Review, 28 (Fall 1994), 490.

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