Free Study Guide: A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines - Free BookNotes|
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A LESSON BEFORE DYING: FREE CHAPTER SUMMARY / BOOK NOTES
Like Tante Lou, she embodies self-sacrifice. She has spent her life
raising Jefferson as his Godmother. Thus, she feels slighted when the
defense attorney labels Jefferson a ‘hog’ because it renders her life’s
work meaningless - she didn’t raise a hog. After that she continues to
work tirelessly to make sure everyone recognizes Jefferson is a man when
he goes to the chair. She convinces Henri Pichot to arrange a meeting
with the Sheriff. She talks with the Sheriff’s wife about allowing them
to meet with Jefferson in the day room at the courthouse. When Grant repeatedly
asks why he must visit Jefferson, she responds that “someone goin’ do
something for me before I die.”
The Reverend didn’t study theology at a seminary. He simply felt the
urge to start preaching, so he did. More importantly, Reverend Ambrose
understands that his job is not just to teach with the sermon, but also
to lead through service and example. He spends nights at Miss Emma’s house
during the ordeal and witnesses the execution. Although he does not have
a degree, the Rev. understands himself and he knows the people of the
quarter. Rev. Ambrose is uncomfortable having an agnostic teacher at the
school, and he doesn’t think Grant is a good influence on Jefferson, who
needs to accept Jesus in his final days on earth. He also helps Grant
understand that education involves self-awareness.
Jefferson is a Christ-like figure. He is innocent of murder but goes
like a lamb to the slaughter. He is even executed close to Easter, the
commemoration of Christ’s death and resurrection. Like Grant, he begins
his jail-sentence as a self-obsessed individual. Gradually, he understand
that, although he can do nothing to save himself, his example can help
others avoid his fate and improve their own lives. In his diary he records
his astonishment that no one took an interest in him while he was alive,
but now that he is going to die all sorts of people take time to make
contact with him. Jefferson can stand up to racism in a unique way because,
in a sense, he’s already dead. There is no worse punishment the man can
give him. Thus, he is freer than Grant, Reverend Ambrose, or other blacks
in the quarter because he can stand up and be a man without fear of repercussion.
The former schoolteacher represents the darker side of Grant’s nature
and has a fatalistic influence over him. Like Grant, Antoine’s education
only makes him bitter and self-obsessed. Like most mulattoes, he hates
all people with darker skin, including Grant. Antoine stays in the South
not because he likes teaching, but because there’s nowhere else he can
feel superior to so many people. He truly believe that his light skin
makes him superior to blacks, just as he accepts that whites are naturally
superior to himself. He has a very destructive influence on Grant, convincing
him that he has only two choices. He can run away from the South. Or,
if he stays, he will eventually be broken down in to a ‘nigger’ and become
like all other blacks in the quarter. Unlike Vivian, he tries to convince
Grant that his efforts with the schoolchildren and Jefferson will make
no difference in their lives whatsoever.
The archetypical authority figure, the Sheriff represents the white
Southern power structure. Despite his prejudice, he treats Jefferson with
a firm, yet gentle hand during the latter’s stay in jail because he knows
Jefferson is no threat to him. He is far more suspicious of Grant, because
he recognizes that Grant is more educated than himself. Thus, he seeks
out opportunities to reaffirm his status. Before their first meeting,
he keeps Grant waiting in the Pichot’s kitchen for almost two hours as
a not-so-subtle remind of his authority. In all their dealings, Sheriff
Guidry is condescending towards Grant. He uses the title ‘professor’ in
addressing Grant as a way of amusing himself and his colleagues. Like
Antoine, he is a fatalist. He doesn’t believe Jefferson capable of change
and thinks that Grant’s visitations are all a waste of time.
Three things separate Paul from the other deputies in the Sheriff’s department.
First, he’s the youngest, implying that he’s more tolerant of new ideas.
Second, everyone describes him as having “come from good stock,” meaning
that his family knows how to treat people decently regardless of color
or station. Last of all, Paul is the only deputy that treats Grant with
some respect and hopes that his efforts will help Jefferson. At the ends
of the book, Paul delivers Jefferson’s diary to Grant, symbolizing hope
for a better future.
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Strate, Shane. "TheBestNotes on A Lesson Before Dying".
. 09 May 2017