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A Lesson Before Dying by Earnest J. Gaines

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destinee brunt

on 29 January 2015

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Transcript of A Lesson Before Dying by Earnest J. Gaines

A Lesson Before Dying by Earnest J. Gaines
Historical Information
During the 1930's, racism was as strong and normalized as ever in Southern states.
Author's Style
By using dialect, the author's style of writing makes it very clear to the audience who is speaking and their background. If whomever speaking is a white man, the author makes that person sound more sophisticated and educated. If the person is black, they sound less literate and intelligent. Since Grant went to college, he is more grammatically correct than those of his family.
Author's Style cont.
For example, in Jefferson's diary the author uses a different dialect in order to show Jefferson's character. He writes, "...good by mr wiggin tell them im strong tell them im a man good by mr wiggin ..." The author is able show how uneducated Jefferson is without masking the sentiment of his word.
Biographical Information about the Author
Biographical Information about the Author (cont.)
A Lesson Before Dying
Author: Earnest J. Gaines

Date of Publication: 1933

Genre: Historical fiction
Destinee Brunt, Nayeli Rivas, Josh Gold, Annaliese Anderson, Ernesto Hernandez, Azelynn Anderson
Earnest J. Gaines was born January 15, 1993 on a plantation in Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana. When he was 15, he moved to Vallejo, California in order to be with his mother and stepfather.
Gaines' first published short story, called
The Turtles,
was part of a college magazine at San Francisco State University (SFSU). He later earned a degree in literature from that very college.

Gaines' first novel was written at age 17. He sent it to a New York publisher, who later rejected it. Gaines burned the manuscript, but later rewrote it to become his first published novel,
Catherine Carmier
Since 1984, Gaines has spent the first half of every year in San Francisco and the second half in Lafayette, where he teaches a creative writing workshop every autumn at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Plot Summary
Set in 1930s Louisiana,
A Lesson Before Dying
is about a black man named Jefferson who is convicted of murder and being sentenced to death for a crime which he claims he did not commit. He is intended to die a fool-- a hog, but his godmother, Miss Emma, is having none of it. She asks Grant, a well-educated black man fresh out of college, to help Jefferson inevitably face his death as a man.
PoC were tried and killed for crimes they did not commit solely based on of the color of their skin, and white people were getting away with it.
New opportunities for black people to become more successful and accepted in society were beginning to arise, and white people were not happy about it.
Resisting his yearning to leave Bayonne, Grant is forced to break barriers with the hard-headed Jefferson in order to convince him that he really, truly is a man, despite what society deemed him to be.
Grant Wiggins
Role in the Story
Protagonist and narrator of the novel.
He is the one person who must help Jefferson through the transition from a hog to a man.
Since he is one of the few people in his family who has a college education, his family relies on him to help Jefferson.
Characters (cont.)
Role in the Story
On trial for a crime he did not commit and whom Grant must convince is more than a hog.
He is a symbol which represents black people as a whole during the 1930s.
He was dubbed a hog and accepted that fate because the "white man" branded him with it.
He truly believed he was a hog and that he should die as such.
Tante Lou
Role in the Story
Grant's aunt.
She is the mother figure for Grant. She disapproves of Grant straying away from god. She is a support system for Miss Emma and assists in guilt-tripping Grant into helping Jefferson.
Miss Emma
Role in the Story
Jefferson's godmother.
She raised Jefferson.
She does not want him to die as the hog the "white man" proclaims he is, but to die as the man he truly is.
She asks for Grant's help in making sure that Jefferson is taken care of.
Role in the Story
A schoolteacher at the black Catholic school in Bayonne. Grant's loving girlfriend.
Support System
Vivian is Grant's rock. She listens to Grant's problems and assists him in figuring out the right path for himself.
Reverend Ambrose
Role in the Story
Preaches to Jefferson about God.
He is the leader of the religious community and he preaches to Jefferson about God. He believes that he can help Jefferson, but he doesn't connect as well as Grant does.
“What justice would there be to take this life? Justice, gentlemen? Why, I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this.” --Jefferson's defense attorney, 8
Quotes (cont.)
“How do people come up with a date and time to take life from another man? Who made them God?” --Grant, 157

“We're teachers, and we have a commitment.” “Commitment to what--to live and die in this hellhole, when we can leave and live like other people?” --Vivian/Grant, 29
“What do I know about life? I stayed here. You have to go away to know about life. There’s no life here. There’s nothing but ignorance here. You want to know about life? Well, it’s too late. Forget it. Just go on and be the nigger you were born to be, but forget about life.” --Matthew Antoine, 65
“A hero does for others. He would do anything for people he loves, because he knows it would make their lives better. I am not that kind of person, but I want you to be. You could give something to her, to me, to those children in the quarter. You could give something I never could ... The white people out there are saying you don’t have it—that you’re a hog, not a man. But I know they are wrong.” --Grant, 191
“good by mr wigin tell them im strong tell them im a man good by mr wigin im gon ax paul if he can bring you this” --Jefferson, 234
Slavery- Gaines does not directly address slavery, instead, he demonstrates actions that were being done to his own race.
Injustice: Discrimination- It takes place at the beginning of the novel during Jefferson's trial due to comments that were made by Jefferson's defense lawyer and throughout the novel based on skin color and level of education.
Education- In
A Lesson Before Dying
education determines living conditons for individuals.
Racism: Labels- Grant describes the separation of local places which were only to be used by a certain race.
Opening: Man vs. Society.
It tells and foreshadows the novel's concern about Jefferson's crime and the conflict about justice between two races; White and African American, but with unequal power.
Closing: It sets the example of a man who impacted his community and proved a society wrong based on education.

Literary Devices
Jefferson's Diary- Symbolism. His diary is the only chance we have to get a glimpse into his mind. This represents his legacy he left to his people that even a "hog" can die as a man. (page 226)
Christianity- Motif
"His expression didn't change - as though someone had chiseled that painful, cynical grin on his face"- Simile
"I was not there, yet I was there."- Oxymoron
“Jefferson needs something in that cell,” I said.
“Yes, he do,” the minister said. “You hit the nail on the head, mister. Yes, he do. But not that box.”- Idiom
A Lesson Before Dying
takes place in rural Louisiana in the 1940s. The "quarter" is a small community of black plantation workers in which Grant lives. There is a black-only school and church separate from the white community.
Characteristics of the Genre
A Lesson Before Dying
is heavily based on the history of black oppression and racism. Although it's a work of fiction, it explains the very real and awful situations that black people had and still have to withstand.
Significance of Quotes
#1) Why would they bother to put a worthless and ignorant man to such sentence.
#2) Grant tries to convince Jefferson that by learning he can decrease the assumptions made by the white folks that black people are not able to learn and that they're meant to work in the fields.
#3) Is the living proof of Jefferson's transformation from a hog to a man.
#4) Grant points out the social injustice and the power of a ruling society to determine when someone should die.
#5) Grant's conversation with Vivian conveys the oppression cycle they had during those times.
#6) Matthew Antoine was one of grant's elementary school teachers who tried to convince grant to leave the quarter and try to find the meaning of life. Matthew served as the example for grant about the consequences of not leaving the quarter.
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