Category: A Lesson Before Dying


Sam Guidry

– racist, arrogant, superior, unsympathetic, unpleasant, suspicious (p.46)

– accepting demands of Miss Emma and Tante Lou (p.118)–> wif’e’s influence

– questions regularly the situation (p.115) –> control

– thinks of his reputation even among the blacks/ Jefferson ( p.204)

–> Sam Guidry had not learnt any lesson yet since he keeps his prejudicial and superior position. He uses every possible means to maintain white supremacy and only cares for his reputation.

Paul Bonin

– white example for equality

– in the beginning ,no racist thinking but passive, not showing attitude openly

– in the end, going to the black funeral standing up for his way of thinking

–> change from passive player to acrtive one

My lesson

What I have learnt from the Ernest J. Gaines’ novel ” A Lesson Before dying” is the right to voice for the rights one has. What is more, the accent is put on positive egality and respect each and every human being deserves so that prejudices and superficiality shall be condemned contrary to the questioning of the contemporary system.


Letter to Vivian

Hey my dear,

I’ve been thinking about what will happen to Jefferson soon, about what progress he made, about what Jefferson means to me. You know, it profoundly affects me. You also know my initial attitude since I never wanted to do this. I avoid conflicts but Miss Emma and Tante Loue insisted on me to do them the favour of creating a man out of Jefferson, out of a hog, out of nothing. This task, it is priced at overcoming. I must have faced so many hindrances, humiliation, ignorance. I am not capable of outlining my feelings. It is so hard.

I suppose, the development between Jefferson and me is of tremendous importance. According to the talks  held, you acknowledge the positions we kept. While I was kind of forced, Jefferson represented the unresponsive, ignorant and desperate counter part. In the course of my visits, you know we approached each other, he began to show his emotions whose expression he never was capable of. What is more, we became close friends, despite the obstacles we faced. The white people, the pressure from outside which can be considered with Tante Loue, Miss Emma, Reverend Mose. Nevertheless, Jefferson is the victim of the white supremacy and oppression, a model of the injustice ruling here in our present and grievous society. He never got something, he must subordinate others, his whole life. Hence, I noticed that Jefferson and me, we have so much in common… We cannot accept our miserable situation in here. Jefferson is the ideal example of what the black community may achieve, a human being with dignity and with each and every other virtue, if there were no injustice, prejudices, the whites’ maintenance of their authority.

I am deeply hurt with regard to the coming verdict’s realization. He, my closest friend, my soul mate… I cannot even imagine!

Vivian how may life go on like this?

Passionate kisses



In the following test, jefferson, the protagonist of Ernest J. Gaines’ novel “A Lesson Before Dying”will be characterized according to the first twelve chapters.


Jefferson whose surname is not known yet, is a black man of twenty-one years old. He lives in Louisana in the late 1940s and used to work on plantations “…he knew that the grinding season was coming soon…” (p.8. l.5f.). Miss Emma, Jefferson’s godmother shares the home and she means everything to him and vice versa “- mama, grandmother, godmother” (p.11, l.30). As she raised him, the relationship must be very close ”  He knew taking money was wrong. His nannan told him never to steal. He didn’t want to steal. “(p.10, l.1f.). With regard to his behaviour concerning the crime of taking money and killing 3 men, Jefferson obviously is no human of intelligence but of ignorance ” But he was talking to a dead man. Still he did not run. He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t believe that tis happened. Again, he couldn’t remember how he had gotten there. “(p.9, l.22ff.). Apart from that, poverty and inexperience are terms reigning his life since ” He had never dialed a telephone in his life ” (p.9, l.29) and ” he didn’t have a solitary dime ” (p.8, l.2f.). His action of not only stealing money but also the nonaction result from Jefferson’s cowardice.  Therefore, ” animal ” (p.10, l.15), ” hunger and plain stupidity ” (p.10 , l.26), ” a boy and a fool ” ( p. 10, l.34) are according to the defence lawyer suitable terms describing Jefferson. In order to get a positive verdict, he is even depicted as a ” hog” (p. 12, l.5). Calling Jefferson a hog alludes also the subordination and humiliation since animals are not capable of thinking and judging and they lack a conscience , so they are less worth than human beings.”… a thing that acts on command” (p.11, l.12) appeals the inferiority and ignorance of that individual. In addition, at Miss Emma’s and Grant Wiggins’ first visit in jail , he does not pay attention to them, they are ignored and that is the reason why Jefferson is unresponsive and rejects other people, separating himself from humanity (p.66 , l.33ff.). This preceding statement is stressed if one considers the fact that the convicted Jefferson pretends to be a hog by behaving impolitely while eating (p.76, l.29ff.) and by having no conscience and no emotions (p.76. l. 19ff.). Due to the verdict and the claim of being a hog, one the one hand, Jefferson isolates himself from the human beings and on the other hand from the society and hence he is alone, coping the grievance notwithstanding that his fellow men consisting of particularly Miss Emma and Grant Wiggins care for Jefferson.


In the novel ” A Lesson Before Dying”, Ernest J. Gaines puts focus on the drastic change of Jefferson’s life, a young black man after he is unfairly sentenced to death.

Hereinafter, the chapters 7 and 8 will be summarized which deal with the annual school visit by a white superintendent .

In the church, which is to represent the school, the annual school visit takes place. The superintendent who controls the circumstances in order to be capable of giving a feedback, treats the pupils in a more or less neutral way more caring for their behavior and shape rather than for the school’s condition. Also Grant Wiggins is neglected and not regarded as equal since his request for books is ignored.

Later, the school receives its first load of wood, showing that the winter is about to come. As an inevitable consequence of seeing the children working, Grant Wiggins himself remembers his past when he has not had the options, the children now have. What is more, he  evokes memories of his relationship between his former teacher Matthew Antoine and himself. Matthew has told him to leave Bayonne in order to escape the race-thinking.

In the novel ” A Lesson Before Dying”, Ernest J. Gaines puts focus on the drastic change of Jefferson’s life, a young black man after he is unfairly sentenced to death.

In the subsequent text, the narrative technique in the chapters from 1 to 6 will be analysed.

One can say that the narration is done by a first person narrator and that his knowledge is restricted (p.7l.7ff.). Grant Wiggins includes his own feelings and interprets the others’ actions , so the consequence of identifying with him is provided for the reader (p.15, l. 1ff.). In addition, his telling is supported with flashbacks which differ. The first one describing the accident and the happenings in court is presented in detail as if the narrator is to be omniscient( p.7, l. 25-p. 12,l.26.). In this description of different positions, there is no valuation to guarantee objectivity, I suppose. Another flashback is to find in chapter 3 where Grant’s childhood is shown (p. 19, l. 31 – p. 20, l. 15) but here  judging is remarkable since he says ” I could not imagine this place, this house, existing without the two of them (Miss Emma  and Tante Loue) here”(p.20, l.7f.). In the course of the plot, the story is told in Grant Wiggin’s view anyways and according to his feelings, his past and his thoughts or also inner monologues, one is capable of identifying with the protagonist.

In the following text  the distinct positions in reference to Grandmother’s task will be shown.

Louis Rougon is speechless since he “could not believe what he was hearing” (p.23., l.5) What is more, he makes fun of the the task while betting on a failure (p.41, l.16ff.). Another point to mention is that Louis and the fat man despise the black men as inferior and dumb and therefore they despise all they demanded, too (p. 45,l.26.ff.;p.45, l.31.f.).  Anyways, both, Louis Rougon and the fat man are amused of the situation since on the one hand there is a bet going and on the other hand because the blacks request kind of more rights (p.46, l.6f. ; p.46,l.31f.).

At first glance, Edny Guidry , the sheriff’s wife, seems not to take part in the decision or even does not to want to because she says that she’ll leave all that up to Mr. Wiggins and the sheriff (p.43,l.26.) but in the course of the story it becomes clear that Edny convinces her husband of Grant’s permission to visit Jefferson (p.47, l.17.f.)

The sheriff himself, Sam Guidry, is not impressed by such a proposal as he claims ” …I think the only thing you can do is just aggravate him, trying to put something in his head against his will. And I’d rather see a contented hog to go that chair than an aggravated hog. It would be better for everybody concerned. There ain’t a thing you can put in that skull that ain’t there already” (p.47, l.28ff.). Actually he supports the idea of the status quo since Sam Guidry agrees with Grant Wiggins not to have anything to do with it at all (p.47,l.14ff.).

Grant Wiggins does not like the idea, the grandmother has because he believes that he is unsuitable for that job (p.31,l.11ff.). Apart from that, the task gets on his nerves as he already has enough work to do (p.13, l.7f.; p.18, l.13f.).  Another aspect that stresses Grant Wiggin’s negative position towards Miss Emma’s task represents the fact that he is forced by his aunt Tante Loue and the disturbed and not mutual relationship between Loue and Grant (p.17, l. 6ff. ;p.34, l.25ff.). The direct speeches ” His nannan would like for me to visit him” (p. 46,l.2f.) and ” I would rather not have anything to do with it, sir. But that’s what she wants.” (p.47,l.11f.) are proofs for that.

In the novel ” A Lesson Before Dying”, Ernest J. Gaines puts focus on the drastic change of Jefferson’s life, a young black man after he is unfairly sentenced to death.

The story takes place near a plantation in Louisana in the late 1940s and surprisingly not in the prison yet. Other places where actions happen are Bayonne where Grant Wiggins, the first person narrator has his girlfriend and the court announcing the verdict.

Hereinafter, I will point out all the information I could find on Jefferson in the chapters 1 to 6. This will be structured according to the different perspectives.


In the godmother’s opinion, Jefferson represents a significant part in her life. Though Miss Emma, as everyone, knows the verdict she is extremely shocked since she cares for his godson. This can be proven by seeing her immobility (p.7, l.9 ff.). Additionally, the compassion and the close relationship between the nannan and Jefferson is shown if one regards her depression while saying that her godson was described as a hog (p.15, l.8f.). Miss Emma is deeply hurt and moved not only by the verdict, so the fact of losing Jefferson (p. 21, l.15ff.) but also by the claim of raising a hog . ” They called my boy a hog, Mr. Henri,” Miss Emma said. ” I didn’t raise no hog, and i don’t want no hog to go set in that chair. I want a man to go set in that chair, Mr. Henri.”(p. 21. l.29ff.). This demonstrates that she wants Jefferson to acquire pride and dignity guaranteeing  him not to be a boy and a fool with a modicum of intelligence anymore but to be an example of a real man. On the one hand, regret can be noticed this way because it proves his lack of experience but on the other hand it depicts her love to Jefferson as it permits him an educational  progress. She cares for him and cannot stand the judicial decision : “Jefferson go’n need me, but I’m too old to be going up there.My heart w”nt take it…” (p. 21, l.34ff.).


The prosecutor claims Jefferson to be an animal (p.10, l. 15.). Apart from that, in his point of view, Jefferson had the full intention of committing that crime(p.10,l.11ff.) so character traits of his are likely to be evil, bad , cold hearted and greedy.

My Personal View

I guess that Jefferson is an innocent, honest and normal boy because he is raised by godmother who told him to live a proper life and not to do any wrong (p.10, l.1f.). But I’m also of the opinion that he lacks education as he does not react in any kind in court.

Defence Lawyer

“Jefferson was innocent of all charges except being at the wrong place at the wrong time” (p.10, l.18f.). Furthermore, the defence lawyer associates him with nouns as hunger and plain stupidity (p.10, l.26). This simplemindedness is underlined as he says that Jefferson is rather a boy and a fool than a man with a modicum of intelligence and as he describes him as a slave acting on command, not knowing whether something is right or wrong (p.10,l.31ff. ; p.11,l.12.). As a consequence of that foolishness, according to the lawyer, Jefferson is not even capable of planning such a crime (p.11, l.6ff.). Not to forget that he represents the backbone for the family, playing the role of the reason to go on living (p.11, l.29ff.).