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Religion and Heaven
In Ernest J. Gaines’s novel, A Lesson Before Dying, we learn about man, his suffrage, and his development. This novel is a story about man’s soul and dignity. It is a story about a young mans soar to the peak of humanity and heroism. It is a novel of improvement and development. Jefferson, who has been sentenced to death for a crime he has not committed—once referred by his attorney a hog—learns how to become a man and gets off of his four legs and stands! This is a story of a kid’s struggle and development into manhood. It is about a kid who becomes a hero for his people and his family. In this novel we learn that not only the soul, but also the nature of humanity and the dignity of mankind is needed. Henri Pichot, the white landowner, questions Miss Emma that, “At this point, I would be more concerned about his [Jefferson] soul if I were you,'; and she responds, “Yes sir, I’m concerned for his soul…. But I want him to be a man, too…'; (22). It becomes Grant Wiggins’s responsibility to teach Jefferson how to change his attitude and gain the courage to stand and reach salvation. Grant becomes responsible to help Jefferson walk towards death like a man, and does not have to do anything about his soul. It is through the close relationship that Grant and Jefferson develop through their conversations that finally deep down in their hearts they believe in heaven and God’s promise about heaven. They learn about the world and its difficulties and how many people are anxious to reach heaven because they have nothing here, in this world, to grasp to.
There are many things that show, neither Jefferson nor Grant care about religion. For example during the lunch they have in the courthouse, Grant starts his meal before Reverend Ambrose starts the blessing and Jefferson doesn’t respond to Reverend’s prayer (190). But it is through Grant and Reverend, and Grant and Jefferson’s talks that the novel assures us that heaven’s existence is needed, even if it is not there the belief that it exists is very important for many people. People need it to be there so they would not think their life in this world is without any justification. It must be there to make everything fair. They need it to be true so they can hope they will earn what they didn’t get in this world, especially for Jefferson and for the ones who have suffered in this world.
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Religion in this novel is known as a device to relief pain. Reverend Ambrose tells Grant how God has been a source of relief from the grief and sorrow that people suffer from. God has been a source for salvation for people who have nothing but misery; religion has been a resource where people in times of sadness can hope for something better than the unhappy life they are living. When they don’t have anything they turn towards God because he has promised them that after this life there is a better world. There is a place that they can have what others have, it is a place where everyone is equal and no man has more than another. In this world they are willing to suffer in hope of happiness in the other world. God gives mankind “love';, which shapes Grant and Jefferson’s friendship through out the story. It is Jefferson’s love which opens Grant’s eyes towards the world (225). It is Jefferson that raises Grant’s cross (224). Reverend Ambrose makes Grant realize the importance of God’s promise to man, and how man needs these hopes and promises to help him get up and reach out in times that he is down and has nothing left to hang on to.
In this novel Jefferson not only gains spiritual salvation, but also learns to “stand, and think, and show [to the white man] that common humanity is in us all'; (192). Jefferson becomes a person who other people rely on. Grant not only teaches Jefferson but also learns from Jefferson the secret of being strong and the process of becoming a man. He finds out what he wants to do with his future. He tries to learn the secret of how to become that individual who “decides to become something else'; (193). Reverend and Grant do their “best'; to achieve their goals (212). In order for Reverend Ambrose to save Jefferson’s soul, he needs Grant to help him, “This is a mean world. But there is a better one. I wish to prepare him for that better world. But I need your help'; (214). Reverend asks Grant to help him make Jefferson “kneel and stand'; (216), which both Grant and Jefferson finally do, although we might not have seen it but the change in these two peoples attitude shows that they kneel for God, and stand for humanity.
A Lesson Before Dying was a novel of development. Each character improved in his or her way. Mr. Wiggins learned more about the world and grew more sensitive to his surroundings. Vivian met new people and increased the quality of her relationship with Grant. Miss Emma finally got to see someone to stand for her. Tante Lou learned that she had a decent nephew, and finally Jefferson realized that he was no animal and learned to act like a man. And all of this was because they were saved one way or another. This novel was about the heroism of resisting and defying the expected. Jefferson defies the “Myth'; of the white man and “chips away that myth by standing'; (192).