“LESSON BEFORE DYING”: AN ANALYTICAL OVERVIEW OF RACISM AND ITS IMPACT IN GAINES WORK

Published: 2021-07-22 09:35:08
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It is known to everyone that racism is the perception which makes one race superior over another. Racism outcomes in the form of discrimination, stereotyping and judgmental and biased attitudes toward specific groups of people and targets their ethnicity, race, language or color etcetera. Racism is a singular word which has multi-facade implications which could affect different people in different ways. Some people get affected by the events and prejudice they encountered and some highlight the element of humanity and prefer to focus on people instead of historical incidents.Ernest J. Gaines makes his people center of his work. Gaines “began his life among cotton pickers in the old slaves’ quarters at river lake plantations” (Wilson & Ryan, 129) Gaines got inspired by his life and times and events and determined to depict the impact of racism on individuals through a more thoughtful perspective. “A Lesson before Dying” is the most eminent instance of his work which first published in 1993 and based on the story of Willie Francis. The story narrated as fiction but is a true story and portrays Jefferson (Francis) as a young black man lived in Louisiana verdict to death twice by electric chair.Gaines’s unique ability is to elaborate the experience of an individual character adds practicality to his thesis. He has lived a slaved life in Louisiana and therefore is well-aware of the harm it could do to a man. Leon Litwack writes the reflection of a Mississippi slave that says “I used to think if I could be free I should be happiest of anybody in the world.” (Wilson & Ryan, p. 20) From very start of the novel “A Lesson before Dying” Gaines demonstrates a society in 1940s Louisiana which is enriched with racism. Bayonne is a community in Louisiana which deals with plantation and based on descendants slavery and occupied generations or slaves to work on the plant. Regardless hard labor of ancestors and young generation slaves never get a fair amount of payment and paid less than other white workers. Gaines explains the flaws of the legal system as well which promotes the racism and never takes a slave’s trail seriously.Throughout the trial, Gaines clarifies black slaves’ status in white society as an animal. Defense attorney attempts to evoke some mercy to the jury by comparing Jefferson to a hog. Attorney says that “Let us for a moment say he was not. What justice would there be to take this life? Why I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this.” (Gaines, p.10) At this point, Gaines highlights the helplessness of slaves which do not have even right to overturn the sentence through appeal and therefore his grandmother Miss Emma requested school teacher names Grant to let Jefferson die as a human instead of the hog. She says that “They called my boy a hog, Mr. Henri, I didn’t raise no hog, and I don’t want no hog to go set in that chair. I want a man to go set in that chair, Mr. Henri.” (Gaines, p.17) The instance asserts that racism can hurt the self-esteem of an individual and everyone deserves respect and fair treatment regardless of any matter. Sufferings of Jefferson causes hurtful implications on other blacks as well including Grant, Miss Emma, and other black dispositions because they all are human and want to die and live like humans in a dignified and respected manner.Moreover, Gaines makes a point that racism can damage the self-perspective of victims of racism. As time passes the victims become like a pickled vegetable which dipped long in vinegar and adopts its sourness. For this purpose, Gaines incorporates the character of Vivian which has a lighter tone of black skin because of the luxury of having mix breed. However, this slightest difference makes him proud of him. Grant reflects that “mulatto (people of mixed racial properties) were enemies if anything at all. There was not even respect.” (Gaines, p. 52) The hate of mulattoes for black people is as substantial as white people abhorrence. Nevertheless, mulattoes are also a target of racial discrimination around the setting and era and taverns and eating places of whites are banned for their entrance. Mulattoes are not entitled to get high paid jobs’ opportunities but regardless all of these facts they tried to opt a demeanor similar to whites. Mulattoes work in bricklaying or carpentry areas and sometimes do some jobs related to house painting to “keep from working in the field side by side with the niggers.” (Gaines, p.160) In this way, mulattoes make themselves unlike to blacks and more like to whites but only in their perception. This phenomenon underlines the shade of differences which can refer that “the simple dualism of black versus white is not the only issue that divides people.” (Galens & Moss, 130)Gaines illustrates the horror of electric chair death sentence in his other works as well. In “A Gathering Of Old Men” a “character recounts the terrible story of how his son was killed in the electric chair.” (Galens & Moss, 131) It was a concrete punishment which was used by whites to terrifying blacks in that times. However, through protagonist of Jefferson, Gaines affirms the power of a single man to change the implications of racial society. On the plea of Miss Emma, Grant contemplates arranging education for Jefferson so he could die like a man instead of a hog or any other animal. Miss Emma stresses that “I want the teacher to visit my boy. I want the teacher make him know he’s not a hog, he’s a man. I want him to know that ‘fore he goes to that chair, Mr. Henri.” (Gaines, p.17)Education was the only power that could elevate the confidence level of Jefferson which in turn could help him to encounter the situation by looking into the eyes of the trouble. The higher authorities have surmised that terror of being electrocuted will eventually evoke Jefferson to take his own life. On the other hand, education provides Jefferson with utter courage and pride on the decided day of his termination. His poised persona annoys the Pichot to an extent; Jefferson “the bravest man in that room.” (Gaines, p. 203) At last, it proved the dignity and composure of a single man can infuse a surge of energetic motivation in victims of racism in a genealogical society. Gaines affirms that racism can be dwelled in a long-term manner as well by utilizing the same strategy. By hardworking, education and establishing relationships, Jefferson becomes mature and represents his people in a magnificent and esteemed way.By analyzing the content mentioned above, it becomes evident that racism has several aspects which could hurt, damage, and destruct people. Some people get pickled in the essence of racial discriminations and go with the path of boasting and false pride. Nevertheless, the only antidote to mitigate the harmful effects of racism is to acquire education and to develop a mutual understanding which gradually pulls Jefferson up from the pit of shame and inferiority and made him a man, not a hog.Work CitedGaines, Ernest J. A Lesson before Dying. Serpents Tail, 2015.Moss, Joyce, and George Wilson. Literature and Its Times Vol. 5: Profiles of 300 Notable Literary Works and the Historical Events That Influenced Them. Gale, 1997.Ryan, Bryan. Major 20th-Century Writers: a Selection of Sketches from Contemporary Authors. Gale Research, 1991.

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