Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
A Lesson About Manhood: Appropriating “The Word” in Ernest Gaines’s A Lesson Before Dying is a piece of criticism which explores the similarities and differences between Jefferson and Grant to biblical figures and myths, such as God and Jesus, and the way they utilize their positions to make an impact on the advancement of the black community. I agree with most of the interpretation of A Lesson Before Dying. I acknowledge the fact that Jefferson is played out to be the Christ figure, and I also know that Paul, the jailer, is shown to be like Paul, the converted apostle. Jefferson is one of the main characters of the book. As the wrongly convicted prisoner on death row, he is the one chance that the black community has in showing themselves in a brave and honorable manner. The criticism states that Jefferson has to destroy the myth of black inferiority. The only way in which he can destroy it is to prove it wrong, and so he must die honorably in order to show that the black population is not a cowering bunch of vulnerable second-class citizens, but instead a strong, united group of free individuals. Paul, the jailer, is moved by Jefferson’s courageous last stand. “I don’t know what you’re going to say when you go back in there. But tell them he was the bravest man in that room today. I’m a witness, Grant Wiggins. Tell them so.” (Gaines, 256). This quote, said by Paul, is evidence of Jefferson’s impact on the white community. A formerly educated, well rounded white citizen had felt sympathy and admiration for a black man; truly a step forward to the furthering of black social status. Also, I agree with the fact that white structures and buildings are detrimental to the social status of black people, and symbolize the authority whites have over blacks, like the courtroom (Gaines, 9), where colored people are sentenced to imprisonment/death.
Reading the twelve page criticism made me rethink a few things. At first, I had never made the connection of the book and the New Testament. I didn’t realize that Jefferson’s death had as big of an impact as it was mentioned in the criticism. At first, I had believed that Miss Emma wanted Jefferson to die honorably for the sole reason of his own dignity, and that Reverend Ambrose’s sole priority was to achieve Jefferson’s redemption. With that, looking back at the book, I now understand the reason Miss Emma pushed Grant so hard for Jefferson’s manhood. It wasn’t so much as for his own pride and manliness, it was more for the advancement of the community as a whole. Also, in Chapter 27, Reverend Ambrose yells at Grant, calling him uneducated (Gaines, 212-218), which is obviously hurtful to Grant’s pride, seeing as he went to college to receive an education. “When you act educated, I’ll call you Grant. I’ll even call you Mr. Grant, when you act like a man.” He rips Grant for not being mindful towards his own community, and I realize that Reverend Ambrose had meant the importance of Jefferson’s death was phenomenal. “Grant sees that white power is based on lies; he comes to learn from Reverend Ambrose that to produce a feeling of power for the black community, he must lie as well” (Auger, 79). He did not want to disrespect Grant, but he knew it was necessary to push him to do what would benefit the black community. Overall, the criticism made me appreciate and understand why important characters such as Miss Emma, Tante Lou, and Reverend Ambrose prodded Grant, the only member of society educated and qualified enough, to help Jefferson achieve manhood and die dignified. My original analysis and the criticism did not have any conflicting or interfering ideas. In my original analysis, I had mentioned the similarities between Jefferson and the Christ figure, which is also heavily emphasized in the criticism (Auger, 80). Jefferson was to die in order for him to redeem. the rest of the black community, and Grant was supposed to show him how to do it. In my original analysis, I had also mentioned that the schoolhouse was a structure of great importance, as it was the general meeting place and educational center. The criticism also talks about the importance of buildings to white culture, as they symbolize their power and authority over the black community. However, the schoolhouse is a symbol of black culture; emphasizing their religious dependencies and value of education. No matter wherever they are and whatever they’re doing, the black community will have a strong rallying point; the schoolhouse.