In A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines, what is the author's message about life throughout the book?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In a sense, this book is more about the injustice in the world thanks to racism than actually presenting a treatise on how to live life. Yet arguably, we can infer such lessons from the way in which the novel presents us with a world where obvious injustice and inhumanity exists. Clearly, the convinction and execution of Jefferson is a prime example of this injustice deriving from racism. The way that he innocently accepts a ride from two men and then is implicated in a violent struggle, in spite of his lack of understanding of what is really happening, is enough to give him the death sentence. The injustice is of course not merely limited to Jefferson, but goes outwards onto his nearest and dearest and those who are associated with him. For example, Tante Lou, the Reverend and Grant Wiggins all suffer injustice and poor treatment when they try to visit Jefferson, for example the way in which Miss Emma is treated and has to have her basket searched every time.

However, in spite of this, the message of the novel seems to concern the way that we should try to meet such injustice and live our lives as a result. The way in which Jefferson is able to walk to the electric chair like a man is therefore an important symbol of how we should live our lives in the face of such injustice. As Jefferson writes in his diary before his execution, "I been shakin and shakin but im gon stay strong." The overwhelming lesson of the novel seems to be that we must not allow ourselves to be dehumanised by injustice.

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A Lesson before Dying

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