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Dehumanization in the book A Lesson before Dying by Gaines

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Encouraged by this turn of events, Grant borrows money from the townspeople which he uses to buy Jefferson a radio. He also gives him a small notebook and encourages him to jot down whatever thoughts he has. Jefferson lives up to his promise and upon Grant’s next visit, he has written substantial differences between men and hogs. Meanwhile, Grant’s relationship with his girlfriend Vivian and Reverend Ambrose has grown for the better. However, he is thought have a justifiably relationship with Paul. For Rev. Ambrose, his idea is to use Grant to reach out to Jefferson’s atheistic soul (Gaines 47).

In his defense, Jefferson says that being an atheist doesn’t make him a bad or good person. Upon realizing the implications of Jefferson’s death upon his community in that he has metamorphosed into a community symbol, Grant however channels his efforts into ensuring that Jefferson meets a humane death. Jefferson’s execution is scheduled for two weeks after Easter (Gaines 100). By virtue of being attached to Jefferson, Grant realizes that he cannot attend the trial, and he doesn’t. A courthouse deputy, Paul, comes with the news that the execution has already taken place.

News that is met by a heavy hearted Grant. To the average reader, A Lesson before Dying passes as a simplistic novel. But this is not the case to a keen reader. The novel euphemizes a critical outlook at the conditions and status of African Americans in the South, post-World War II and prior to the Civil Rights Movement. Other reads such as The Life and Work of Polanyi and Let my people go: The Story of the Underground Railroad also can make very interesting reads to help any person demystify dehumanization.

In the person of Grant, who is the only formally educated black in the area, the reader is introduced to a person who feels hopeless in his dream to liberate his people. It is through Grant that the theme of dehumanization takes a formal perspective. He has an education, like most Americans but is still conformed to being a school teacher. By having a black skin, however, Grant’s career and life choices are severely curtailed.

He must also always address white figures in authority as “sir”. Grant, accustomed to his helpless station in life, subscribes to the thought that there is nothing he can do to change his life, or that of those around him. And to the reader, this is essentially true. He lives in a cocoon of myriad and strong opposing forces (Buckmaster 45). For example, Tante Lou and her persistent wants, the local blacks thirst for leadership, the children’s needs and the annoying fact that he has to follow a religion he doesn’t subscribe to.

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