Free Study Guide: A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines - Free BookNotes|
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A LESSON BEFORE DYING: FREE PLOT SYNOPSIS / ANALYSIS
The substance of the superintendentís instructions to the children is
to stay healthy, get plenty of exercise doing plantation work, and learn
to salute the flag. In short, he sees the school as a way of preparing
the students for their future jobs in gardens, farms, and factories. This
is one reason Grant feels awful for his strict training regiment. He wants
to make a difference in the studentís lives, but not by becoming an agent
of a society that wants to entrench these black kids in sharecropping
and dead end manual labor jobs.
The week after the superintendentís visit the school received its first load of firewood for the winter. Two black men led a horse-drawn wagon into the churchyard and began to unload the logs. From inside the school, Grant listened to the men joke and laugh as they threw the wood over the fence. He watched them work in their homespun clothes and straw hats. One of the men, Henry Lewis, knocked on the church door to let Grant know the wood had been unloaded, and they were leaving and axe and a saw for the older boys to chop up the logs. The afternoon he let the boys out of school early and stood by the fence as they chopped and sawed the wood into manageable pieces. He noticed the boys behaved exactly like the older men - men who were fifty years older and had never attended a day of school in their lives. He wondered if he was accomplishing anything or if it was just one big vicious circle.
Standing by the fence, he remembered his own schooldays, when he and his friends had chopped the wood during school. Many of the boys from his class had either died violent deaths, gone to prison, or died slowly on plantations or in factories. His teacher, a mulatto, had predicted that most of them would either die young or be brought down to the level of beasts. The only thing he could teach them was flight, because there was no freedom here. And when the teacher saw that Grant wanted to learn, he hated him all the more. Yet by teaching Grant, he would pass on the burden of knowledge and free himself. When he had graduated from university, Grant would come back to visit his mulatto teacher, Mr. Antoine, and talk about the school. Antoine told Grant that none of his efforts would make any difference to the students. It would be impossible for him to scrape away the ignorance that had been plastered over their brains for the past three hundred years.
Despite their common bond, teacher and pupil hated each other. But Grant
felt he needed the mulatto teacher to tell him what no one else would.
One day, Grant asked Mr. Antoine why he didnít run. The mulatto replied
that he liked feeling superior to the rest of the black people because
his skin was lighter than theirs. Grant said he didnít feel skin color
made a person superior, and his teacher replied ĎJust stay here long enough...Heíll
make you the nigger you were born to be.í (Page 65) If he wanted to know
about life, he would have to leave this place. There was nothing here
but ignorance. A few years ago Grant had visited his teacher after getting
his first load of firewood and asked for advice on running the school.
The mulatto told him to do the best he could...it wouldnít make any difference.
Like the white people of the town, Mathew Antoine sees everything in terms of race because it protects his place in the social order. Being half-white makes him superior to the other blacks, even if the whites think of him as just another Negro. He shares the white demeaning attitude towards blacks, believing that education will not change the character flaws that are buried down deep in the race.
Despite their mutual contempt, Grant continually visits Antoine because he
sees the mulatto as a bearer of some hidden secret - how to escape the
destiny of the black man in the South. Neither of the two options Antoine
gives him - either run or be brought down to the level of a beast - is
acceptable. Grant seeks instruction on how to live, but Antoine has no
answers. The mulatto knows only hatred, resentment, bigotry, and hopelessness.
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Strate, Shane. "TheBestNotes on A Lesson Before Dying".
. 09 May 2017