A Lesson before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines Essay

A Lesson before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines Essay

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A Lesson before Dying, one of Ernest J. Gaines later works, was written in 1993. Some of his earlier works include A Gathering of Old Men and In My Father’s House. The novel covers a time period when blacks were still treated unfairly and looked down upon. Jefferson, a main character, has been wrongly accused of a crime and awaits his execution in jail. Grant, the story’s main protagonist must find it within himself to help Jefferson see that he is a man, which will allow him to walk bravely to his fate that lies in the execution chair. A Lesson before Dying captures the tale of a young teacher, who by helping another mistakenly finds his own soul. This paper explains the literary background of Gaines, facts about the novel, literary criticism, film reviews, social issues of the time, and a personal analysis of the movie.

The story begins with a trial of Jefferson being accused of murder. During the trial his lawyer calls him a hog that is not even worthy of the death penalty. Ultimately Jefferson is sentenced to death by electrocution. During the weeks following Miss Emma, who is Jefferson’s "nanan", wishes for Grant Wiggins, a young schoolteacher to speak with Jefferson and make him understand that he is a man. Although Grant refuses he is forced to go by Tante Lou, his aunt and a good friend of Miss Emma’s. Upon their first few visits Jefferson is cold towards Grant and Miss Emma, obviously believing he is a hog, as the attorney has stated. He refuses food offered by his "nanan", saying that "food aint for hogs." After Frequent visits, Jefferson begins to open himself up to Grant and speak about his feelings. Once Jefferson trusts Grant he is able to realize that he is a man and not a worthless hog. Through helping Jefferson become a man, Grant has done his own unconscious soul searching which has helped him find who he is, and has found him a place with God.

Ernest J. Gaines was an African American writer who was born on January 15, 1933 in Oscar, Louisiana. Although Gaines’ schooling was limited to a few classes, he attended at San Francisco State and Stanford University he was able to become a distinguished author of his time. A few of his most recognized works include The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman and In My Fathers House. Gaines grew up on a farm where he helped his family by working in the fields where he was paid only $.50 a day. Whe...


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...The turning point was when Jefferson opened up to Grant and he was able to convince him that he was not a hog, but a man. I also believe it was the most moving scene of the movie. All the emotions that were put into words in the book came to life in the movie.

Overall I thought that the movie was a very good interpretation of the novel. It is very rare to find a movie that follows the book so precisely. I think that even if I had not read the book I would have understood the movie well enough to follow along and understand Gaines’ message. I thought it was very moving, especially being able to see the characters of the book come to life in the movie.

In conclusion, Ernest J. Gaines presents to us, the reader, a story about man’s ability to triumph over life’s obstacles when sometimes faced with harsh realities. For Grant, it was helping Jefferson to realize who he was, that gave him the strength to find himself. Sometimes the answers to life’s problems are not always cut and dry. The solutions can not always be seen clearly, but it is important to never give up. It is in the worst times when we must look to ourselves and examine who we are in order to thrive and carry on.

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A Lesson before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines Essay

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