A lesson before dying
Ganes, Earnest J. A Lesson Before Dying. New York: Vintage Books
Setting: The story is set in a small Cajun Louisiana town in the 1940’s.
The setting in this story is significant because, the whole story is about how a young black boy is treated unfairly and sentenced to death because of something he did not do. It also deals with the emotions that this black boy faces because he has been treated unfairly by the white people.
Major Characters: Jefferson, black boy who is accused of a crime and sentenced to death; Grant Wiggons, teacher sent to help Jefferson.
After he went and obtained a college degree, Grant Wiggins goes back to live with his grandmother. Being that he is a very educated person, Grant was elected by his grandmother to try and get Jefferson to realize that he was a man and not an animal like the white people had led him to believe. Throughout the entire novel, Grant is battling this idea in his head because he doesn’t feel that even he knows what it is to be a man. He doesn’t believe that he is the right person to talk to Jefferson. But by the end of the novel, he figures out what it is to be a man.
Minor Characters: Miss Emma is Jefferson’s grandmother. She is the one who had the whole idea of Grant going up to the jail and talking to Jefferson, showing him that he is a man. Tante Lou is Grant’s aunt. She is the person who raised Grant to be the good, kind person that he is. She is also the one who talked Grant into talking to Jefferson. Vivian is Grant’s girlfriend; she is Grant’s encouragement. Whatever problems he has, he always talks to her about them and she makes him feel better, and helps him through them.
Summary: This story is about racism in the south and how it affects the people it concerns. It starts out with Jefferson being sentenced to death for a crime that he did not commit. He was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and because he was black, they assumed he did it. Grant Wiggins is told to go up to the jail and convince Jefferson that he is a man. At first he doesn’t know how to make Jefferson see that he is a man, but through visiting Jefferson, talking to Vivian and witnessing things around the community, he is able to reach Jefferson, convince him that he was a man. Finally at the end of the story, there is a sense of victory because Jefferson dies feeling like a man.
Conflict: Individual vs. self Grant doesn’t know how to convince Jefferson that he is a man. Everyone putting pressure on him to convince Jefferson that he was a man makes him doubt his intelligence.
Jefferson doesn’t feel that he is a man because he has never been treated like one. He is trying to figure out how to be a man.
These conflicts relate to the theme because when Grant and Jefferson doubted themselves, they didn’t get anything accomplished, but when they opened their minds to accept new concepts, they realized that they could do what they wanted. It relates to Ganes theme that nothing can be accomplished if you don’t have an open mind.
Subplot: one of the subplots in this novel, is that of the relationship between Grant and Vivian. Although they have a loving relationship, there are some problems. For example, Vivian recently broke up with her husband, but they are not officially divorced. Grant wants to marry her, but she keeps coming up with excuses why she can’t at this moment. This affects Grant in many ways. He understands her situation, but really wants to marry her.
Point of View: The point of view in this novel is first person. We see the story from Grant’s point of view, so we only see the things the way that he sees them. Because of this we as the readers tend to be partial to Grant in any situation. For example when he gets in arguments with Vivian, or when he’s trying to talk to Jefferson, and he won’t respond. In a way this can be good because we know how Grant is feeling and we can see how the events affect him.
Method of Characterization: Ganes uses mostly indirect characterization to reveal the things he wants the reader to see. Especially with Grant because we can see his thought and analyze his character through what he thinks and says.
Balance: 60% Narration 40% dialogue
Hallmarks of style:
Use of language: ganes uses a lot of southern dialogue in this novel. He makes the dialogue fit the person who is speaking, for example Grant Wiggins, who is a very educated person, speaks with intelligence. “The public defender trying to get him off, called him a dumb animal” (page 31) Jefferson, who is an uneducated Negro, speaks like a real southerner. “its evenin an I done eat my rice an beans an I done had my cup of milk and the sun comin in the windo…bout all for now” (226). Although they are from the same little town, Ganes makes them speak in different ways to distinguish the fact that one is educated and the other is not.
Tone: The tone that Ganes uses in this novel, is one of awareness. He is trying to make the readers see that racism in the south affects a person’s self worth. He uses the tone of awareness to wake people up to the pain racism causes.
Mood: The mood of this novel is sad. The way that the author portrays how racism hurts everyone makes you sympathize with the people involved in the conflict.
Symbols: The most important symbol in the novel, is that of the hog. There are many references to a hog in this novel. For example at the beginning of the novel at the trial, “oh, yes, she did hear one word-one word, for sure: hog.”(Page 4)
Or when Jefferson is in jail “I’m an old hog he said…to kill for Christmas.”(83)
The repeated reference to a hog shows how Jefferson and all the other white people saw him as a hog, which was a low life form.
Structure: The structure of this book is sequential. The events are chronological, and everything is told in the way that Grant sees it.
Title: The title of the novel is significant because it goes along with the theme. Jefferson needs to know that he is a man and not a hog, that is the lesson he must learn before dying.
Time Scheme: This story takes place in a span of approximately one-year.
Theme: The main theme that I found in this novel was that you have to be able to open your mind and accept new knowledge to accomplish any goals that you have. Grant had a goal of making Jefferson feel like a man when he died. When he didn’t really want to do it, “Suppose I am allowed to visit him and suppose I reached him and made him realize that he was as much a man as any other man; then what? He’s still going to die…knowing anything? (31) Nothing was accomplished, but when he put his mind to it, he got Jefferson to realize that he was a man and not a hog. “Tell nannan I walked” (254)
Major Strength: The major strength in this novel was the fact that Ganes was able to present such a terrible subject in such a touching way. He was able to use the text to open people’s eyes.