Ernest Gaines: When I was kid growing up, we'd go to my grandmother's house and we used to listen to the music, especially late at night you could hear this blues and the stuff. Gaines: And the blues was reaching Jefferson spiritually. And I, this is the reason why I had it, it was to get him to open up. Gioia: Music reaches Jefferson in a way that nothing else had. Not religion, not his family. But the radio proves to be only the first gift that changes Jefferson's life.
Grant brings him a notebook and pencil and he urges Jefferson, who is barely literate, to try to write down some of his thoughts. The letters were large and awkward, the way someone would write who could barely see. They was taking me somewhere. I wasn't crying. I wasn't begging. I was just going, going with them. Then I woke up. I couldn't go back to sleep, I didn't want go back to sleep. I didn't want dream no more. Gaines : I wanted to show his limitation his language and words and his spelling. I wanted all of those little things going on for a person who is illiterate.
He never ever thought himself important. Gioia: Jefferson's sentence is death by electrocution, a practice that continued in Louisiana until Ash Green. Green: In Louisiana in those days, when a person that was sentenced to death, the electric chair was moved to his hometown so that he could be electrocuted in front of his neighbors, if you will. It was rather an extraordinary way of doing of this. Sister Prejean: Then Gaines takes us into the viewpoints from different people-the words spreading from the people that the chair had arrived.
Of people saying, "Oh, I don't want to see it," or "Oh, I can't believe they gonna do that. Warden Burl Cain : They did that too.
Ernest J. Gaines
They hauled it in a truck, and they brought the big generator and I remember when I read the book about the generator because the generator is a noisy loud thing and they used an old tractor motor to run the generator. These days, the state uses lethal injection for its executions. The traveling electric chair now sits in Angola's prison museum. Warden Cain. Warden Cain: When the switch is pulled then the engine is like when it is strained, and the governor kicks in and revs the engine up.
It'd be sound of engine , then they pull the turn switch on and it idles back down, and so can actually tell when, you know, when it's doing its job. Gioia: Warden Cain has witnessed eight executions-six by lethal injection and two by electrocution. Warden Cain: My role has been that, I am going to be the one that walks in there with him, that talks to him and gives the signal.
Lesson Before Dying Essays (Examples)
I've held four of 'ems' hands, you know, when they died because they didn't want to hold their hand because they reach into the next earth. It is crazy. I revisited all of 'em when I read the book. Gioia: Gaines' novel deals with the harsh realities of capital punishment, not a common theme in contemporary fiction. Warden Cain describes everyone's fear that, at the last moment, the prisoner will not be able to walk on his own. Warden Cain : It is a cop out, probably, when I think about it, but you just can hardly bear to have to carry him down there and fight with him and struggle and tie him down, and what if the witnesses see that struggle, I mean, this is traumatic for everybody.
It's just rough, that is what it is. Sister Prejean: That's a huge thing for all the people. I have accompanied six people to execution. Sister, pray God he holds up my legs. I want to walk to my death like a man. And Ernest Gaines captured that, he captured that in that book. It came so close to the actual experiences I've had in the death house. I said, "Ernest Gaines, I don't know if you've ever walked in that place, but boy you've captured it in this story.
Gioia: Although Grant helps Jefferson develop his humanity, the teacher is unable to bring himself to be with the condemned man during his final hour. He is at the church school instead, walking outside while inside his students kneel in silent prayer.
I had no idea what I would do while I waited to hear from Bayonne but I found myself out in the road and walking up the quarter. It was a couple of minutes after twelve, and I was trying not to think. But how could I not think about something that had dominated my thoughts for nearly six months? It seemed I had spent more time with him in that jail cell than I had with the children in the church school.
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- A Lesson Before Dying: Study Prompts?
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Why wasn't I there? Why wasn't I standing beside him? Why wasn't my arm around him? It must have been by now; I didn't want to look at my watch anymore. Had it already happened or was he still waiting, sitting on the bunk, hands clasped together, waiting?
Was he standing at the cell door, listening for that first sound of footsteps coming toward him or was it finally, finally over? Linney: Ernest is one of the finest writers the country has ever had. Linney: At his best, as he is in this book, there is a love of life in spite of what life does to you. There is a love of human expression that soars above the story.
If you want, it's about goodness. Tyson: What I get is a lesson on how to maintain your pride and dignity no matter what the circumstances are. And you are able to do that when you understand who you are. Dee: The message is something that you think you've known as a black person for a long time, but he gives it clarity. He gives it an undeniable sense of truth.
A Lesson Before Dying: Study Prompts
He dimensionalizes racism, knowing that if you can analyze something, you can understand it better. When you can pull something apart and look at it, it's not as fearsome. Gioia: Today, Ernest Gaines lives in a house that he built on the same plantation that he worked as a child.
He bought the land when he returned to Louisiana after his years in California. Gaines: The body went to California. The soul remaining here with my aunt that my brothers and sisters in the old shack we lived in. We have a cemetery back there where my people are buried the last over a hundred years.