What two methods does Ernest J. Gaines utilize to write a story many people believe really occurred in A Lesson Before Dying?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Gaines uses the methods of believing in both the capacity of human beings to change and the way we make peace with death as ways in which A Lesson Before Dying could be seen as having really happened.

One method Gaines uses to make people believe his story rests in his exploration of the capacity for human change. Gaines goes to one of the most foundational questions that triggers wonderment: Can human beings change? One critical element in A Lesson Before Dying is Jefferson's transformation. His ability to change is one of the major elements that underscores why so many would believe the story is factual. In the end, we want to believe human beings can change. This is part of the reason why the story strikes us as so realistic. The redemption within the human narrative hits at one of our most basic and cherished hopes. It is difficult to go through life believing human beings cannot change. One reason Gaines's story is so believable is because, in seeing Jefferson's change, we recognize our own sense of hope.  

Jefferson's change in the face of death is another reason people could see Gaines's story as believable. Jefferson is sentenced to be executed, a finality that triggers fear within many people. How we will be judged and what is the value of our lives are naturally confronted questions. Given how Jefferson was found guilty of a crime and faced the harshest sentence society can offer, there is a logical question of how he will bring meaning to his life in the face of such a defined end. The humanization that results appeals to the "better angels of our nature." Gaines presents a portrait that makes us believe there is a way for us to meet a final end with dignity and pride. This is another reason why people would believe that the story really occurred. Just as we want to believe people can change, we also want to believe people can die with dignity, as Jefferson did. Gaines's methods  employ faith in both hopes, triggering the reader's desire to believe the story is real.

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A Lesson before Dying

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