Good topics for A Lesson Before Dying essay

Ernest J. Gaines grew up poor in rural Louisiana during the Great Depression. His novel A Lesson Before Dying is a powerful look at the society he grew up in and the issues it faced. As an essay topic it has huge potential; there are a lot of themes in it that can be used to write an interesting piece. The plot concerns a black man in the American South who's sentenced to death for a murder committed by two men he was with, and how a black teacher's relationship with him adds meaning to his death. Here are some topics to explore. Find here quality essays and research papers.

  • Injustice. It's clear that Jefferson, the condemned man, has done nothing to deserve his punishment. There's little interest in justice, though; even his defense lawyer says he's "No better than a hog." Jefferson is condemned for his colour more than anything else, something that would never have happened to a white. Grant, the teacher, recognises the injustice of the trial but is cynical; rather than fight racism he would rather leave the South in an attempt to escape from it.
  • Sacrifice. At first Jefferson is understandably bitter at his fate and acts as the animal he feels people see him as, but Grant and others eventually persuades him that if he can die with his dignity restored it will represent a moral victory. When Jefferson is finally executed his calmness and strength make an impression on everyone present.
  • Religious imagery. As well as a cynic Grant is an atheist. For much of the novel he appears to see the two as being connected. Jefferson, however, represents a Christ-like figure. Sentenced to die unjustly, his execution becomes a symbol which has an increasing effect on Grant. Before Jefferson is executed Grant begs him for forgiveness, a clear allusion to the bible. Finally Grant realises that among other things his atheism symbolises his alienation from the community, and that while remaining an atheist he can reconnect with society and have a positive influence.
  • Power symbolism. The novel is full of examples of small and petty displays of power than nevertheless have a significant effect. Blacks have to wait for whites to make time for them and enter white houses through the back door. The Reverend Ambrose - himself black - calls Grant "Boy" when angry with him, a term that racist whites used to adult black men. The combined effect of all these small things is to constantly remind blacks of their inferior status.

American society has come a long way since Gaines lived in the South, but many of the resentments he describes are still alive today. This novel is a popular way to explore them and these topics will help you write an interesting essay on it.


Published on  January 30th, 2017

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