If you knew you would die soon, how would you live your life? Or better yet, how would you want your life to be remembered?
Ernest Gaine’s A Lesson Before Dying takes place in 1940 Louisiana, where racism, segregation, and social injustices were not unusual in the Jim Crow south. The main characters of this novel include Jefferson - a young, uneducated laborer who is wrongly accused of the murder of a white storekeeper. There is also Grant, a college educated, school teacher who teaches in an underfunded all-black school full of tattered books and school materials. The lives of these two strangers seem completely unparalleled until Jefferson is sentenced to death row and Grant accepts the challenge of restoring Jefferson’s battered spirit during a trying time.
This novel will fire up some complex emotions that will have you comparing the state of 1940 Louisiana to the current state of 21st century America. Many moments within this novel are eerily similar to 2015 America. The reoccurring belligerent racism, unlawful imprisonment of an innocent black man, and conditions of underfunded schools in a poor minority area, will have you taking a closer look at your own communities. A Lesson Before Dying vividly showcases the flaws of the Jim Crow south while simultaneously holding up a mirror for today’s society by showing how the system is still persecuting minorities.
Throughout the novel, Jefferson and Grant both unsuspectingly help each other grow as men. This growth would not have been possible if neither of them chose to be receptive to the other’s message. Personally, I admired the growth of Grant. Despite his skepticism and doubt towards a hopeless society he matured and saw the fault in his own ways and began to reflect on how his negative attitude was a contributing factor in that unjust society. A Lesson Before Dying centers around change. In order for change to come about sometimes we must first begin with ourselves; which can often prove to be the hardest part.
We are all living while dying, but it is how we choose to live while dying that truly matters.