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Characterization in "A Lesson Before Dying"
Character is one of the most important aspects of Ernest Gaines’ book A Lesson Before Dying. It is clear that Mr. Gaines devoted a lot of time to the development of the middle class in this book. He also gave great development to some of the minor characters in the story. I think one of the reasons why this story is so compelling is that the character development of the writers is complete. The characters are people you love and respect like Vivian Baptiste, characters you sympathize with like Jefferson’s mother Miss Emma, and characters you sometimes love and hate like Grant Wiggins.
Major characters like Grant Wiggins and Vivian Baptiste are well-rounded as are some of the minor characters like Louis Washington, Jr. Although, Louis Washington, Jr. and other students, Mr. Gaines still provides information about his background to fulfill his character. Louis Washington, Jr. he could have just been left as a flat figure and he would still have served his purpose (drawing) well. However, the author shows that he thought that good characters would be the most important part of his book when he shares with the readers on page 55 of the book: “He was without a doubt the baddest kid in the school. He came from a big family—thirteen, fourteen , fifteen: I don’t know how many—and he had to fight for every scrap of food he had. By sharing this information, Mr. Gaines gives the reader an insight into the psyche of Louis Washington, Jr. that helps the reader understand some of the character problems that occur later in the m ‘this story.
Grant Wiggins works as the story’s Protagonist. As the narrator we see the story through his eyes and through his descriptions. Grant Wiggins is a tough guy. He is a man torn between his desire to escape racism and the oppression of the Deep South, yet we feel that deep down he believes he can change the lives of the children he teaches. Throughout the story he tries to convince Vivian and thus himself that he is the reason he lives on the farm. She naturally knows better and tries to get him to admit that there are other reasons why he stays in the field besides himself. Controversy is everywhere for Grant Wiggins- at home, at work, and in his love life. He is up against his aunt who he obviously loves and respects and what he sees as her attempts to control and interfere with his life. At the beginning of the story he is torn between granting the two old women their wish to visit and help Jefferson and the fact that doing so puts him directly on the path of discrimination and prejudice that he has been trying to avoid. He feels compelled to help others and often shows that he is very considerate of others. Twice at Mr. Pichots’ house, even though he felt humiliated and ashamed because of the help he received, he still tried to make things work for Inez. He was humiliated by the search and verbally abused in prison for honoring the request of his Mother and Miss Emma as well as Jefferson.
The antagonist in this story is better the environment and place of the story-Deep South. It is clear that Grant is against the institutions, policies, and segregation of Louisiana and plantation life. Grant always examines why he is on the field and his reasons for being a coach there. He has memories of his days as a child in the field and his time studying in the same church where he now teaches. He sees as an adult that life on the farm does not change from generation to generation. He remembers his conversation with his old teacher when he went to visit. During the conversation on page 64, his former childhood teacher tells him, “You will see that it will take more than five and a half months to erase—remove the blanket of ignorance that has been covered. and it has been modified on the same brain in the last three centuries. ” It is clear that Grant knows that there is truth in the words and he is torn between running away from the fields and living somewhere else where it is possible that he can have a better life. However, he cannot abandon the people who need his help. He lives in the field with his aunt because he feels that it is his responsibility to do so. He continues to teach and even though he thinks that many students will die or go to prison like his classmates did. Furthermore his aunt and Miss Emma approach him with their plans to help Jefferson he refuses a little.
This story is a powerful story of hope and inspiration because of the people in it. The amount of background information we receive about the characters gives them life and whether we like them or dislike them we feel like they are living a life of rest. I am sure that many readers of this story will feel the pain of Miss Emma, the conflicting thoughts that are going through Grant Wiggins and the stress of life in the Quarter.
(c) 2006, Marcus Barber
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