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A Lesson Before Dying Critique

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Vancil, David E. “Redemption According to Ernest Gaines.” In A Lesson Before Dying in African American Review 28, no.3 (1994) 489-491.

Vancil initiates the criticism of A lesson Before Dying in an old-fashioned, excessive religious genre of attitudes. He claims that Grant Wiggins is reluctant to atonement for guilt to uphold the Christian faith belief system within the Quarters, the small community of Wiggins’ residence. Wiggins has just evolved into the Diaspora of African-American people whose adapted a new way of thought and forever changing lifestyle alterations ranging from the southern to western regions in America. It may not be in complete agreement and acceptance by the matriarchs and patriarchs of the community but it progresses into a unique character identification tool for oneself. Black Americans were unwillingly detached from the true African tribal culture and therefore must attempt to gain a bountiful knowledge on one’s own heritage, current, and future life expectancies for the average home grown man or woman.

Vancil narrates that Wiggins is “immersed in his own concerns and relates to his community from a perspective of superiority, a superiority as much bestowed as felt.”(489) Grant does not conduct his reasoning and underlying mentality as a higher status than all of the other community members in every illicit situation. It is not wrong to possess pride and matured culture for being a recipient of a fine education for a young Black man residing in Louisiana. He simply wants more than what a contained, prejudice society can offer him or his counterparts. His beliefs are further justified when Jefferson is convicted and sentenced to death for a murder not capable by an innocent man. Grant boasts out that Jefferson was educated in the community’s school system but the power of the finer white members convicted him solely on his skin color. Nonetheless, it displaces Wiggins’ reasoning on the intended reason for his current school children to be taught reading and writing when their freedom can be impaired with prejudice at any point in a given lifetime. Grant feels his contributions to the town’s school system and to Jefferson are worthless due to the evolving circumstances of Jefferson and other noted injustices during that era. “Despite his cultural sophistication, Grant is much like everyone else in wanting something better.” (490) However, with the positive vision of his lover, Vivian, and the foreseen lesson to instill dignity in Jefferson before death he indirectly learns his self-worth, passion, and position in his rural life.

An attentive audience can easily furnish an opinionated statement that David Vancil openly states his own moral and judgmental views of the characters Gaines provide in the novel, especially regarding Grant Wiggins. Vancil repetitively denotes the irony used in the novel. For example, Gaines names Jefferson of a former President who believed in the origination of freedom in America but is now being racially victimized and conforming to the identity of the abhorred beliefs that any black man should wear freedom intellectually, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually like a “liberated” man wears colors of red, blue, and white. Jefferson redeems himself with a worthy, gainful sense of integrity and helping Grant’s deliverance from resentment towards his ancestors. Although Grant was finely educated, he lacked the fundamental understanding underlying the actions slain against his people that molded them into a diminished school of thought. Vancil’s secondary critical publication of A Lesson Before Dying, derives from his evident passion of Gaines’ literary works and the praise of



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