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A Lesson before Dying

For many years in the history of the American society, it could be noted how the black Americans actually tried their best to establish their own position in the society. With the aim of making a name in a White-ruled society, the black Americans were strongly oppressed not only because of their skin color but because of their race as it is. As black Americans try to struggle with the most considerable chances of gaining a fair treatment from the society that they are living in, they have been introduced to the education that is supposed to set them free. However, even though they were given the chance to have access to education, only a few were able to enjoy this provision. Understandably, education was rather considered as a privilege than that of a right to the black Americans. Although well-learnt, educated Black Americans still worked under the authority of the Americans who stand as higher supervisors in the workplace.

This is the basic basis of Ernest Gaine’s thematic focus on the story  ‘A lesson before dying.’ In this story, Gaines tries to create a vivid picture on how to define the being of the social position of black Americans who are learned from that of the others who simply held on to their religion and the will to bring about freedom to their race.  Jefferson, Grant’s friend who is to be executed is a bit of both and has been a courageous believer of God as he takes the step towards his death for the penalty that was given him by the court. To know more about this theme and how the women characters of the story basically implicate on this particular idea, the following paragraphs shall examine important points with regards the said matter.

Understanding the Story of Grant Wiggins

Grant Wiggins is a school teacher in an elementary institution. His learning has placed him in good employment, although not performing tasks of a high official in the organization. Basically, the role he plays is very basic and he still needs to submit himself to the rulings of the school administrators who are Whites. Grant has a friend named Jefferson who is in jail for the accusation of robbing and assaulting Alcee and two others who were found dead in the store where Jefferson was at the same time. Although the evidences were not enough to prove his guilt, his being a black American likely gave away his case and brought it into a tragic end.

As Jefferson was notably awaiting his execution, Gaines introduces a couple of feminine characters who played important roles on the lives of the two men protagonists of the story. Miss Emma, Jefferson’s godmother served as the source of strength of the inmate. Her trust in God was reflected in the story as a mere definition of “freedom” in a sense of being able to hold on to something that was stronger that the controls of humanly oppressions. Staying beside Jefferson during the hearing and the reading of the penalty, Miss Emma gave Jefferson the strength that he needed to face his trials and likely to accept his destiny in the hands of the laws of injustice that was merely controlled by the Whites.

Tante Lou on the other hand was also a character that has close relationship with that of Grant which places her to be the religious adviser of the man [even though there are more times with which he neglects the teachings and explanations that Tante Lou offers him]. Grant, being an atheist, did not believe in the existence of a more supreme being. He strongly depended on the philosophy that if a man wants something to happen, then he must work on it and not wait for someone of a supreme power to work through matters. In short, he never considered divine interventions to be true. Basically, this resentment of the belief about God might have been fueled by his long time resistance of the religion that the Whites offer. It was as if he viewed the belief of God as something that was offensive to the being of the Black Americans who are deeply oppressed by the white society at the time.

Vivian on the other hand served as the counter-ego of Grant’s character. Although she was his girlfriend, there are some matters where these two characters did not agree upon and one of which is being a believer of God and a faithful servant of the community. Likely, through her character, it was shown how the supposed want of Grant to make a change in the community he lives in for the sake of his people’s freedom was motivated by wrong motives making his views and that of his girlfriend’s class in some manners.

How the Women contributed to the Success of Grant’s Goals and Mission

In every man’s success is a woman standing behind, giving all the strength and support that he needs. In the case of Grant, The three women who were considered to be among the main characters of the story basically played a great role on how matters regarding attitudinal change occurred between the two main male protagonists of the plot. Jefferson was rather given the chance by his godmother to accept death as a sacrifice that he has to make for his community. Likely, her belief upon God’s reasons behind all the things that are occurring in the society and among human individuals pushed her into thinking that whatever it is that is happening at present has basically been planned and has some important effects that remains to be seen in the future.

Truthfully, Vivian, Miss Emma and Tante Lou served as mirrors towards the most important idealisms that Grant and Jefferson should know of. Facing the death of Jefferson was hard enough for a close friend like Grant not only because of the injustice situation of the case’s proceedings but because of the fact that the judgment was believed to have been released unfairly because of prejudice. Truthfully, it could be noticed that the understanding of these women towards the being of God and the equality he imposes on each individual helped Jefferson accept the penalty with open heart and hope that it would somehow cause for a better sense of realization among his people.

Grant’s dependence on Vivian on the other hand has set a balance in him as he sees the practicality or the actuality of matters occurring in the society and the supposed explanations that God has set to answer the queries regarding the injustices of prejudice that the black society has had to endure. Dealing with the white society’s oppressive attacks [may it be political, social or individual] has had a great impact on how Grant viewed Christianity, religion and God. It also has contributed to the lost of his trust towards that of the government and the justice system it uses to hear the cases of black Americans in contrast with that of the cases putting white Americans in the defendant’s chair.

How the Story Relates to Present Black American Women

Women are the strong wind behind each man’s wings. Having a different view of matters, women continue to set the balance in the stiff decisions and beliefs of the male population living in the society today. This setting of balance aims to create a more workable environment for men to live in thus accepting mistakes as part of life and letting go of the bitterness that life itself offers. Among Black American societies at present, it could be noticed how the role of women remain as strong element of balance within the said communities. Naturally, seeing through things differently allows women to find practical explanations as to how men should be dealt with and how their thoughts could be affected hence mandating their acts at the same time.

The story of Gaines basically addresses the strength of women to use their persuasive power to change the attitude of men. Basically, it has even been acknowledged through the story that Black American Men get their thoughts, their ideas and their strength from their female counterparts. May it be a partner or a mother image that the women portray, women set a rather important path of guidance for the men to give attention to and consideration for application.

On the other hand, there are also some instances when women set the confusion among men. However, in the story, it has been seen how the being of the three women in the novel actually created a better essence of rethinking on the part of their male counterparts. Specifically, the thinking that they have opened to Grant and Jefferson opened these men to consider more of their society and less of their personal being and gains. As privileged as Grant is, the death of his friend Jefferson awakened him towards his responsibility of assisting the society that he lives with towards the freedom that he knows they deserve. Although not believing in God, Grant somehow was moved by the fact that at the face of death, his friend Jefferson changed his mind and accepted that there was indeed a supreme being that somehow has something bigger planned out of his execution.


The difference in thinking between men and women set a specific balancing element that basically creates a more workable essence of decision making among individuals today. The ways by which both genders affect each other’s opinions about matters have basically created a new sense of seeing through the issues that are most evident in the society today. In connection with the story that is being suggested in the novel of Gaines, it could be noted that the men and women imbalance on thoughts and opinions have been used to create a more vivid picture that shows how women basically influence the thinking of men which on the other hand empowers them to adjust towards the betterment of the situation. Likely, the strong willed belief of the women with regards the existence of God has made the execution of Jefferson much easier to accept for the accused himself. It is with the willingness of a person to affect others that his goals become better realized. The probable willingness of Miss Emma, Tante Lou and Vivian to help the men see through the existence of God naturally gave them the capability to give these men a proper vision of the hope for freedom that they have already almost lost.

Through the years, the women play a great role in honing the personality and the being of every men. As women mother their children and as they try to assist their friends to sanity, these women stand as pillars of source of strength that basically empowers the society to move on from the very blows of challenges and struggles that life itself offers. Surviving the challenges of oppression was a rather harsh effect of prejudice within the relationship that existed between the white and the black Americans. It is only through the help of seeing through things differently that this issue could be resolved as shown in the novel. 

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