A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines Essay

1110 WordsAug 26, 20135 Pages
Grant Wiggins and Jefferson are the novel's dual protagonists. Their individual survivals depend on their mutual support. Although it is Jefferson's story, it is narrated by Grant, with the exception of Chapter 29, in which Jefferson is finally able to tell his story in his own voice, through his diary. And although Grant has taken on the monumental task of making Jefferson a man, as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Grant's fate is inextricably bound to Jefferson's. In order to help Jefferson "stand," Grant must first come to terms with his own inner demons, which threaten to make him an emotional cripple like his predecessor, Matthew Antoine. In short, the two men must support each other, for neither is able to stand alone. Unlike the conventional hero who thrives on total independence, Grant can be a "hero" only through his interaction with Jefferson, and vice versa. This approach to the novel focuses on the Afrocentric perspective in which the needs of the individual are sublimated to the needs of the community. Further, although Grant and Jefferson are not blood relatives, they are connected through their common experiences as black males. Although physically free, Grant lives in a mental prison of his own making created by his hatred of whites, his arrogance, and his detachment from the black community. As an educated man, he sees himself as superior to people like Jefferson and Rev. Ambrose. Instead of preparing him to contribute to his community, his formal education has taught him to despise his own people. Consequently, he uses his role as a teacher not to inspire and uplift his students but to humiliate and ridicule them, much as his own teacher, Matthew Antoine, humiliated and ridiculed him. Thus, instead of using his skills and talents to change the cycle of poverty and violence, Grant perpetuates the cycle by failing to challenge the system.

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