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Lesson Before Dying Themes

            Southern society in America has a deeply rooted history of racial prejudice. Beginning with the inception of the American colonies, African slaves were a staple of southern-society until the end of the nineteenth century. After knowing this information, it is not hard to imagine that society in the south has developed with a segregated community of Blacks. Ernest J. Gaines, as well as all the African-Americans that lived in similar social settings, was raised feeling lesser of a man than whites. After gaining a solid education and reading about other societies, he realized that he must take upon the responsibility of telling his story. Throughout all of his literary works, Gaines has created stories which reflect the ideas of marginalization and the past. In his latest novel, A Lesson Before Dying, Gaines continues to assess these ideas. The themes of this novel, the inescapable past and facing responsibility, are directly address the issue of racial marginalization and are clearly represented through the story’s characters, events, criticisms, and the author’s own life.
             Ernest Gaines’s novel, A Lesson Before Dying, begins as a teacher named Grant Wiggins is recalling a recent trial of a slow-witted man named Jefferson, who is being convicted of murder. Grant Wiggins is the only formally educated person his community and teaches all the students from kindergarten to sixth grade. The recently condemned Jefferson, who had just been sentenced to death, had at one time been Grant’s student. Jefferson was ultimately innocent of the crime he had been convicted of, yet he had not a prayer of getting released for the jury was completely Caucasian, and racial prejudices were too strong at the time. During Jefferson’s trial, in a desperate attempt to sway the jury, Jefferson’s lawyer argued that his client is nothing but a poor fool, hardly more than a hog, and therefore incapable of plotting such and intelligent plan as the prosecutor had previously explained to the court.