Friday, December 31, 2010
A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest Gaines
This book was first published in 1993 and is again part of the Boy's school reading.
Set in the sugar plantation area of Louisiana, around 1940s. It's about the last days of Jefferson a young black man convicted of a murder he did not commit and the growing relationship with Grant Wiggins a local black school teacher.
During the trial Jefferson's defense lawyer portrays Jefferson as sub-human, no better than a hog.
"Why, I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this."
Jefferson's godmother who raised him goes to visit Wiggins and says:
"I don't want them to kill no hog," she explains, " I want a man to go to that chair on his own two feet."
At first Grant doesn't want to do this, but Tante Lou, who he lives with is close friends with Emma Glenn and firmly persuades him to take this on.
He has to humiliatingly beseech the sheriffs cousin, as does Emma Glenn who has worked for the family all her life, stubbornly states what she wants and that she is owed this.
I always think of tobacco plantations when I think of the South, but Ernest Gaines grew up in the sugar plantation area of Louisiana and this is where several of his books are set. Drawing on his childhood experience growing up there. His books are powerful and moving. Well worth reading, you truly breath the humid air, feel the holding onto the tiny shred of pride that is left to them.
Several of his books have been made into films and are well worth watching.