2 What Is The Difference Between Happening-Truth And Story-Truth Characterization in "A Lesson Before Dying"

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Characterization in "A Lesson Before Dying"

Characterization is one of the central points of Ernest Gaines’ novel A Lesson Before Dying. It is clear that Mr. Gaines spent a lot of time developing the central characters of this novel. He also gave considerable development to some of the minor characters in the story. I think one of the reasons the story is so engaging is the author’s thorough character development. Characters are people you like and respect like Vivian Baptiste, characters you feel sympathy for like Jefferson’s godmother Miss Emma, ​​and characters you sometimes love and sometimes hate like Grant Wiggins.

Major characters such as Grant Wiggins and Vivian Baptiste are well-developed rounded characters as are some minor characters such as Louis Washington, Jr. However, Louis Washington, Jr. A fixed character in the story essentially as a foil for Mr. Wiggins. and other students, Mr. Gaines still provides some information about his background that helps round out his character. Louis Washington, Jr. could have been left as just a one-dimensional flat character and still served his purpose (foil) well. However, the author shows that he decided that round characters were going to be the focus of his novel when he shares with the reader this information found on page fifty-five of the novel: “He was without a doubt the worst kid in school. He came from a big family—thirteen, fourteen, Fifteen: I don’t know how many – and he had to fight for every meal.” Mr. Gaines shares that information giving the reader some insight into the psyche of Louis Washington Jr. which helps the reader understand some of the character’s behavioral problems that occur later in the story.

Grant Wiggins acts as the hero of the story. As the narrator of the story we see the story through his eyes and through his references. Grant Wiggins is a very complex character. He is a man torn between his desire to escape the racism and oppression of the Deep South, yet we get a sense that deep down he believes he can make a difference in the lives of the children he teaches. Throughout the story he tries to convince Vivian, and thus himself, that he is the reason he is in the tree. She instinctively knows better and tries to get him to admit that he has other reasons for staying on the plantation alongside her. Conflict surrounds Grant Wiggins—at home, at work, and even in his love life. He is in conflict with his aunt whom he clearly loves and respects and whom he sees as trying to control and interfere in his life. At the beginning of the story he is torn between meeting two elderly women and granting their wish to help Jefferson, and this puts him directly on the path to the racism and bigotry he was trying to avoid. He feels compelled to help others and at times shows great concern for others. Twice at Mr. Pitchot’s house, although he felt humiliated and embarrassed by the treatment he received, he tried to make the situation bearable for Inez. He was insulted by his aunt and Miss Emma’s request to honor him and to search and speak rudely to Jefferson in prison.

The story’s antagonist is obviously the story’s atmosphere and setting—the Deep South. It is very clear that Grant is at odds with Louisiana’s institutions, policies, and discriminatory culture and plantation life. Grant is constantly evaluating his reasons for being in the garden and his reasons for being a teacher there. He has flashbacks to his days as a child on the plantation and his time as a student at the same church he now teaches at. As an adult, he observes that plantation life does not seem to change from generation to generation. He remembers a conversation with his old teacher that he visited. During the conversation recalled on page sixty-four, his former childhood teacher told him, “You will find that it will take more than five and a half months to remove—to peel away—the blanket of unconsciousness that has been plastered over. And over the last three hundred years that brain has been re-plastered. .” It is clear that Grant knows there is some truth to this statement and is torn between running away from the plantation and living somewhere else where he has the possibility of a better life for himself. But he cannot leave the people who need his help. He lives in the garden with his aunt because he feels compelled to do so. He continued to teach and though he was sure that many of the students would die or be in prison as many of his classmates did. He actually offers little resistance when his aunt and Miss Emma approach him with their plan to help Jefferson.

The story is a powerful story of hope and inspiration because of the characters in it. The amount of background information we get about the characters gives them life and whether we like them or dislike them we feel like they are living breathing people. I’m sure many readers of this story will feel the pain of Miss Emma, ​​the conflicting emotions running through Grant Wiggins, and the tension of life in the quarters.

(c) 2006, Marcus Barber

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