A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines (hier online bestellen)

The story:
Set in the fictional community of Bayonne, Louisiana, in the late 1940s, A Lesson Before Dying tells the story of Jefferson, a twenty-one-year-old uneducated black field worker wrongfully accused and convicted of the robbery and murder of a white man, and sentenced to death by electrocution. At his trial, Jefferson's court-appointed defense attorney argues that Jefferson lacks the intelligence to plan a robbery, and that, even if he had been involved in the killing, sentencing him to death would be like putting a hog in the electric chair. In spite of this so-called defense, the all-white jury finds Jefferson guilty. To compound the horror of his situation, Jefferson internalizes the attorney's racist depiction of him as a dumb animal.

Determined that Jefferson will die with dignity, his godmother ("nannan"), Miss Emma, turns to Grant Wiggins, a black teacher at the local plantation school, and asks him to teach Jefferson to be a man. Although convinced that there is nothing he can do, Grant reluctantly agrees to visit Jefferson in jail. Over the next several months, while Jefferson awaits execution, he and Grant forge a bond that enables both men to regain their dignity, reconnect with their community, and learn "the importance of standing."

Extract from book:
That was his story.
The prosecutor's story was different. The prosecutor argued that Jefferson (= A twenty-one-year-old uneducated black field worker condemned to die after being innocently involved in an armed robbery and shooting) and the other two had gone there with the full intention of robbing the old man and killing him so that he could not identify them. When the old man and the other two robbers were all dead, this one--it proved the kind of animal he really was--stuffed the money into his pockets and celebrated the event by drinking over their still-bleeding bodies.

The defense argued that Jefferson was innocent of all charges except being at the wrong place at the wrong time. There was absolutely no proof that there had been a conspiracy between himself and the other two. The fact that Mr. Grope (= The white storekeeper killed during the attempted robbery) shot only Brother and Bear (= Two young black men killed while attempting to rob Alcee Gropé's store) was proof of Jefferson's innocence. Why did Mr. Grope shoot one boy twice and never shoot at Jefferson once? Because Jefferson was merely an innocent bystander. He took the whiskey to calm his nerves, not to celebrate. He took the money out of hunger and plain stupidity.

"Gentlemen of the jury, look at this--this--this boy. I almost said man, but I can't say man. Oh, sure, he has reached the age of twenty-one, when we, civilized men, consider the male species has reached manhood, but would you call this--this--this a man? No, not I. I would call it a boy and a fool. A fool is not aware of right and wrong. A fool does what others tell him to do. A fool got into that automobile. A man with a modicum of intelligence would have seen that those racketeers meant no good. But not a fool. A fool got into that automobile. A fool rode to the grocery store. A fool stood by and watched this happen, not having the sense to run.

About the author:
Ernest James Gaines was born January 15, 1933, on River Lake Plantation in Oscar, a small town in Pointe Coupee Parish, near New Roads, Louisiana. The oldest of twelve children, he was raised by his great-aunt, Augusteen Jefferson, who provided the inspiration for Miss Jane Pittman, as well as other strong black female characters, such as Miss Emma and Tante Lou in Lesson. Gaines' birthplace serves as the model for his fictional world of Bayonne and St. Raphael Parish. With the exception of his fourth novel, In My Father's House, all of Gaines' fictional work is set in Bayonne. Although he has spent much of his life since age fifteen in San Francisco, he writes exclusively about life in the South. He is perhaps best known for his 1971 novel The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, which was made into a TV movie and won several Emmys. In May 1999, HBO debuted its made-for-television movie of A Lesson Before Dying.

Growing up in Louisiana and attending rural schools, Gaines began working in the fields, earning fifty cents a day, when he was eight years old. In 1945, he started attending St. Augustine Middle School for Catholic African-American children, in nearby New Roads, Louisiana, and became active in staging plays for the local church. Gaines left Louisiana in 1948 to join his mother and stepfather in Vallejo, California. In 1949, he wrote an early version of his novel Catherine Carmier and submitted it to a New York publisher, who rejected it. Following high school graduation in 1951, he attended and graduated from Vallejo Junior College (1953).

Although Gaines resists being categorized as a "black" or "Southern" writer, he believes that "much of our [African-American] history has not been told; our problems have been told, as if we have no history." Consequently, his novels provide a chronicle of American history from a black (Afrocentric) perspective. A recurring theme throughout Gaines' fiction is the search for dignity and masculine identity in a hostile, racist environment.

Although he consistently celebrates the pride and dignity of African Americans, he has often been criticized by black writers who feel that his works do not adequately portray the harsh realities of black life.

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
Broschiert: 224 Seiten Verlag: Klett (Februar 2009)
Sprache: Englisch
ISBN: 3125798701
Preis: € 8,50

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