Racism in Ernest J. Gaines's "A Lesson Before Dying"

During the peak of racism in post-Civil War America, innocent African Americans were seven times more likely to be convicted of murder than innocent white people. Additionally, many times convicted African Americans were given the death sentence after court hearings. This is the overarching topic in Ernest J. Gaines’s A Lesson Before Dying. After being wrongfully imprisoned after a convenience store murder, a young man (Jefferson) questions his self worth, and is mentored by Grant until his exection. Towards the end of the book, Grant gifts Jefferson with a notebook to write his thoughts in while in jail.

In A Lesson Before Dying, Jefferson’s choice to use the notebook is important in this novel because it helps Grant realize that he did make an impact on Jefferson’s life, as portrayed by Ernest J. Gaines.

The change in Jefferson’s mindset is recorded and reflected in his journal, and this is a resource that shows Grant that Jefferson was greatly influenced by Grant’s teachings.

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Towards the beginning of the book, readers see Jefferson as a mundane, dreary character who makes no effort to improve his self worth before his execution. He does not accept anything his mentors have to offer, and he barely acknowledges the people who are taking the time to visit him. Throughout the book, we see small improvements in Jefferson’s character- all having to do with what Grant extends to him. Grant almost acts as a father figure to Jefferson- guiding him, supporting him, and listening to him throughout the novel.

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However, Grant believes that he is ‘not a hero, ‘ that a hero ‘does for others, ‘ and ‘would do anything for the people he loves, ‘ (Gaines 191). Grant then goes on to say that he is ‘not that kind of person, ‘ (Gaines 191).

However, at the end of the book we read in Jefferson’s diary that nobody else had cared about Jefferson as much as Grant had, and that Grant really made Jefferson feel like he was somebody. Then, we see Paul give this journal to Grant after Jefferson’s execution. Before reading the journal, readers are lead to believe that Grant still does not feel like he had that much of an impact on Jefferson’s life. However, after reading what Jefferson wrote, Grant is touched by emotion as he learns that Jefferson has a place in his heart for Grant. Every day, we have the chance to let someone know how much they have impacted us. When I was in eighth grade, at the end of the year we had to put together an Exit Presentation for when we graduated from middle school. One aspect of the presentation was to create a section on someone who has impacted or motivated you during your years in middle school. I selected my mom, because she had really helped me through a lot, even if I did not always show it. She has taught me so many things, and she deserved to know how much she impacted my life.

Like Grant, my mom probably felt discouraged at times when I would continuously make the same mistakes over and over again. However, I gradually became more and more mature as the years passed, and I wanted to give her credit for helping me along the way. While Jefferson wrote about his accounts in a notebook, I had recorded my middle school experiences on a slideshow. Additionally, Jefferson dedicated a paragraph to Grant telling him how much his words meant to Jefferson, and I dedicated a portion of my Exit Presentation to crediting my mom with how much she has helped me grow over the years.

Each day, we are affected and influenced by everyone around us- some for the better, and some for the worse. Yet a lot of times, these people who are affecting us have no idea the impact they have had on our lives. Ernest J. Gaines does an excellent job of showing readers how much their words thank-yous’ mean in A Lesson Before Dying, by giving readers a look into Jefferson’s perspective, and how much Grant has helped Jefferson. In this novel, Grant does not believe he had much influence over Jefferson’s thinking or mindset. However, with some insight to Jefferson’s inner thinkings, Grant can see all of the improvements Jefferson has made- all credited to Grant. Similarly, my mom has acted as a mentor to me for several years- helping me through several things and teaching me how the world works. I do not believe my mom to have known how much I learned from her, until my Exit Presentation where I showed her what all she imprinted on me. We all should take just a little bit of time to thank the people who have changed us, and to tell them we walked.

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Racism in Ernest J. Gaines's "A Lesson Before Dying". (2020, May 15). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/racism-in-ernest-j-gainess-a-lesson-before-dying-essay

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