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A Lesson before Dying

by Ernest J. Gaines

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I need help with a paragraph for a term paper on A Lesson Before Dying. How does society determine who lives and who dies in relation to Jefferson's execution?

I'm still working on this term paper for my English class. GBEATTY gave me some good topics to discuss which have helped me out greatly for this paper. I am about done with it, but I think this is my weak paragraph so far that I want to talk about. I don't want to throw this one out either, because I think it's essential to my point, but I am kinda stumped right now. So, I was curious to know any of your opinions on what I should insert on how society determines who lives and who dies in relation to the communities response towards Jefferson's execution. How could I relate that to reality? What would be some good mentions to throw in there?

Expert Answers

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Consider Jefferson’s social worth. In the novel, how is his life perhaps not worth as much as another in the community? Of course, a major theme in the novel is racism, and not just racism directed from whites to blacks, but blacks to other blacks. Because Jefferson is seen by the community as poor, black, uneducated, (and perhaps most importantly) a danger/burden to society, his life is not worth as much as another. Jefferson is really the product of his environment. His poverty and his lack of guidance are not his fault. When he ends up at the wrong place at the wrong time without any sort of moral compass to guide his decisions, no one is surprised. From the communities stand point, it is easier to blame Jefferson for his actions rather than take partial responsibility for them. Look at the penal system in this country. How many people (like Jefferson) are in jail because society (family, government, community, school) failed them along the way? How many members of society turned a blind eye, therefore acting immorally, which allows many of the criminals to become just that? It is no coincidence that poor minorities populate the majority of prisons. It is easier to punish those we have failed rather than accept partial responsibility for their actions. This perceptive would mean that those with less are worth less.

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