Chapter 31: from page 251 “ it must have been 12.15 by now” to the end of the chapter
The passage I’m going to comment upon is the last chapter from the novel A Lesson Before Dying written by Ernest J. Gaines, and African-American writer. This author was born on a plantation in Louisiana at the beginning of the thirties. Louisiana has been a source of inspiration for his novel since he onlywrites about the life of black people in the south of the USA. This book won several prizes among which France’s highest literary honour: The Chevalier Order of Arts and Letters.
This novel is set in Louisiana at the end of the forties, time of segregation, which is an extremely important element throughout the novel.
To sum it up, Jefferson, a young African American is condemned to death formurders he didn’t commit. During he’s trial he’s compared to a hog, that’s why his nannan, Miss Emma asks Grant, the plantation school teacher to visit him in prison to turn him into a man and die with dignity. Grant reluctantly accepts and after a while he bonds with Jefferson.
This chapter is the final chapter and so the day of Jefferson’s execution. To show their respect for Jefferson, the peopleof the black community have decided not to work on that day and Grant asks his pupils to kneel and pray for him. Then Paul, the white deputy, arrives to tell that the execution is over, which is the passage I’m going to present.
First I’ll analyse the way Jefferson’s death is announced in this chapter, then the impact this death has and will have on the black but also the white community, finallyI’ll explain the impact of Jefferson’s death on Grant.
In this passage we must notice that we don’t have an account of Jefferson’s death. However it is announced through metaphors. In fact, an important passage symbolises Jefferson’s death: the passage with the butterfly. Grant is sitting under a tree and he sees a butterfly which flies off towards the quarter (p.251-252). This butterfly isyellow like the light and symbolises Jefferson’s enlightenment, that is to say that he has turned from a hog into a man just like a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. We can also notice the presence of the “wire fence on either side of the road” p.252, which stands for the electrocution. Even if Jefferson’s execution is not described we are made to understand that it has happened, just like Grantunderstands it “yes, I told myself, this is finally over” p.252. A few other elements confirm that Jefferson has passed away, like the fact that just before Paul arrives, time and life seem to have stopped (quotation) and Paul’s arrival is also a symbol of death “the driver drove slowly to keep down the dust”. The dust represents ashes, hence death.
Now my second part focuses on the impact ofthis death on both communities. Several times in the novel, a parallel could be drawn between Jefferson and the Christ. In this passage, Paul repeats “ I’m a witness” (quotations) and he tells Grant about Jefferson’s last minutes. We can here also draw a parallel between this situation and the Apostle Paul who witnessed the agony of Christ and was there when he died. Paul seems to be quite shakenby Jefferson’s death (p.254). Just like in other chapters, Jefferson’s death is compared to the death of the Christ to help his community show that blacks are no inferior being and have dignity. Paul’s witnessing of his execution will play a role in reuniting both communities. In fact Paul offers his friendship to Grant (p.225). They also shake hands (p.255). Moreover Grant suggests that he comeback one day to explain his pupils how brave and proud Jefferson was. So Jefferson’s death has an impact on the two communities as Grant and Paul are united to spread this human story (p.256).
My last part is about the impact on Grant. At the beginning of this passage, while waiting for the news about Jefferson’s death, Grant keeps questioning himself mostly about God. He seems to be at loss...
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