Their Is A Lesson Before Dying
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 COMMUNAL RESPONSIBILITY IN ERNEST J. GAINES'S A LESSON BEFORE DYING 

Ernest J. Gaines's entire career has been marked by a search for a useful African-American cultural tradition, Implicit in his narrative is the recognition that, while cultures change and evolve, the basis for any civilization is an inherited culture with roots in folk and popular tradition. In novels such as The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, In My Father's House, A Gathering of Old Men, and A Lesson Before Dying, we see Gaines's efforts to lay bare a cultural tradition and to write narratives in which the past constitutes the basis for a progressive vision of the future. As an African-American writer who focuses on the problem of representing a coherent cultural tradition, Gaines has faced the central problem of the African-American Diaspora, in which a coherent African folk culture was fractured by removal to America and in which the possibility of an alternate New World culture has been undermined further by more recent migration out of the South.

In his own case, having as a teenager moved to California to live with his mother and stepfather, Gaines found that it was necessary to suppress his own rural cultural heritage. In California he learned that "you were never supposed to tell people you came from the country," yet for Gaines this silence was a denial of his historical identity based on his childhood experience in "the Quarters" (the community that centered around the former slave quarters near New Roads, Louisiana) and his intimate contact with the storytelling and local knowledge of his elders: "Not only was he lying to himself, but he was denying knowing the others, the ones he had left, and wasn't that the same as denying who he was?"[1] Gaines never forsook his Southern heritage entirely, but in his early writing he viewed that heritage with greater distance and irony than in his more recent novels. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Gaines never sought a direct African source as the basis for cultural order. The real source of cultural coherence at the center of all of Gaines's writing is precisely that culture which he was told to conceal in California: the Southern rural folk tradition.

In A Lesson Before Dying, Gaines adopts a more affirming attitude toward the entire range of Southern traditional rural culture, and he finds in this culture, which includes African-American religion, respect for elders, loyalty to family and neighbors, and common-sense morality, a useful and enduring cultural tradition that can be set against the fragmentation inherent in the long Diaspora. The importance of A Lesson Before Dying rests in the novel's acceptance of a Southern folk culture about which Gaines has demonstrated considerable ambivalence through most of his career. In this novel, Gaines has achieved a greater clarity and perspective in his presentation of the workings of an entire cultural system. As a result of his discovery of the traditional culture as a basis for authority, he appears more hopeful. There is a real sense that the components are there to restore order to a culture fragmented by Diaspora.

In his effort to reverse the cultural alienation resulting from the Diaspora, Gaines adopts the model of nineteenth-century realist fiction. This tradition of classic realism, analyzed by Georg Lukacs in The Historical Novel and other works, serves Gaines well as a model for illuminating the historical causes of cultural symptoms, and while the relation of Gaines's work to a Lukacsian conception of history is questionable at several points--for example, in Gaines's manifest effort at moral fable and in the static, assured chronicle of history suggested in some of his writing--the terms of Lukacs's theory are nonetheless useful in understanding the work of this major contemporary author.[2] Gaines's place in literary history comes late, well after the period of classic nineteenth-century realism, but I would suggest that his work, interpellated as it is with the evidence of cultural fragmentation, duplicates the progressive aesthetic of earlier realist texts. Gaines's novels link individuals to their social context with the explicit purpose of combating the alienation of capitalist and racist society. Gaines has never been content to replay the naturalistic mode of representation of other late capitalist texts, for beneath the sensuous detail of his novels rests the author's vision of social change. In interviews Gaines has frequently stressed that he is writing with the self-conscious intention of examining the course of American social history, not merely to represent this history in naturalistic terms but to change it.[3] Thus, his fiction aspires to and achieves a distinctive mode, fusing careful observation of social history with a forceful social vision.

A Lesson Before Dying may well be, as Publishers Weekly suggested, Gaines's "crowning achievement,"4 for this novel is clearly the culmination of a sustained meditation on the larger issues of history and ethics. By focusing his narrative on the execution of an innocent man, and on the relationship of that man to his own marginalized community and to the dominant community that unjustly convicted him, Gaines is able to explore the structure of communal association and to imply the possibility for social change. Significantly, in a novel set in the 1940s in rural Louisiana, the issue of capital punishment has been displaced by an interest in relating and underscoring the positive resources of the traditional black community. Clearly, Gaines intends to locate his novel within a literary tradition in which the powerful subject of the execution of an innocent man is a familiar trope used to represent the broader repression of African Americans, but Gaines employs this trope in a way that carries the narrative beyond naturalistic representation focused on the past. Jefferson, his protagonist, is a dynamic character who, along with Grant Wiggins, Tante Lou, Miss Emma, and others, becomes a center of agency in the novel by virtue of his decision to reject a victimized status. Gaines treats the issue of capital punishment as a manifestation of an underlying cultural problem with roots in American history, which he carefully positions in historical terms.

Although he spent his early years in rural Louisiana, in several respects Gaines stands outside the tradition of Southern African-American narrative running from Douglass to Wright. For one thing, it is important to understand that Gaines's perspective has never been specifically "Southern." Like so many of his protagonists, Gaines was educated and lived much of his adult life in California, and as a result he brings an outside perspective to the Southern African-American historical narrative. Even as a teenager Gaines habitually saw racial issues in ameliorating terms. As he stated in a recent interview with Bernard Magnier, "I went to California when I was very young, to a decent, small town where I was completely integrated into the school."[5] In California, Gaines soon learned of more diverse communities than those of his childhood in rural Louisiana: "blacks, whites, Asians, Latinos--all the groups, races, who were Californians at that time" ("Order," p. 247), and though conflict existed, a progressive vision of cooperation was surely more available than in the South at, that time. The "California perspective" is a significant element of Gaines's historical fiction, for it underlies his ability to read the Southern past as a "pre-text" to the present, to use Lukacs's phrase.

Gaines begins his novel with a conventional narrative of victimization, structuring his plot around an innocent black man who, without adequate legal representation, is convicted by an all-white jury of murdering Groupe, a Cajun store-owner; yet Gaines's interest centers less on this injustice than on the restoration of Jefferson's human dignity. The hegemonic system that prosecutes him is nearly erased from the novel as Gaines shifts the sense of agency to Jefferson, Grant, and Paul, Jefferson's poor white jailer. In restoring Jefferson's status as a worthy member of society, Gaines focuses in particular upon the importance of male role models in the family and community. In the interview with Charles H. Rowell, Gaines traced the fragmentation of African-American family life back to the effects of slavery, in which families were routinely separated: "I feel that because of that separation they [father and son] still have not, philosophically speaking, reached each other again" (p. 40). Grant Wiggins's relationship to Jefferson repeats a familiar cultural pattern in which an older male abnegates his responsibility for a younger male. Only at the insistence of his elders, particularly the women elders of his community, does C, rant accept his responsibility to "teach" younger males. Grant has taken on the crucial role of "teacher'" in his small community but has reneged on the responsibility to support the community's indigenous system of belief. The task that Gaines sets for Grant and Jefferson is to free themselves from an enslaving myth based on past events--in Lukacs's terms, to quit an antiquarian narrative of history, and to enter history as actors.

The essentially social nature of Gaines's fiction is everywhere apparent in A Lesson Before Dying. Significantly, all of Gaines's protagonists--indeed all of his significant characters--possess the sort of social relationship and "personal history" (the development from one stage of life to another and out of a contextualized setting and past) that Lukacs identifies with realist characterization. The historicity of Gaines's fiction has compelling consequences. In Lukacs's terms, the concrete (in Hegel, "real") potentiality evident in his fiction restricts rather than expands possibilities of abstract thought, and it is the limiting of potentiality that shapes great historical fiction and leads to positive development toward positive social ends. As Lukacs recognizes, in life, situations arise in which people are faced with choices, and choice calls forth the person's character. Similarly, in realist literature, a character's decisions alter the future in concrete ways, and the acknowledgment of concrete potentiality implicit in realist aesthetics is the basis for compelling narrative of social responsibility and accountability.

Accompanying Gaines's realist ideology is the severe transparency of his style. Nearly all critics of Gaines's work have recognized the "clarity" and "simplicity" of his writing, but it has not been generally understood that his style functions in opposition to a body of modernist and postmodernist writing in which aesthetic distortion reflects a static and ahistorical condition of existence and in which an incoherent surface displaces a coherent weltanschuung and ethical vision. Gaines is using narrative style in a very deliberate, self-conscious way, as evidenced by his comment: "I think of writing as well as I can--writing cleanly, clearly, truthfully, and making it simple enough so that anyone might be able to pick it up and read it" (Rowell, "Interview," p. 49). By asserting "cleanly, clearly, truthfully" as his artistic standards, Gaines reveals a great deal about his position vis a vis modernism.

The "clarity" and "truthfulness" that Gaines insists on are possible only in the representation of a definite historical setting. Gaines's language is complex in its connotative richness, but his use of language is grounded in a historical community in which the layers of implied meaning are clearly understood. An example of the use of communal language is the children's rendering of the Nativity, transferring the words and the imagery of the Biblical story into local experience. With a hammer hanging from his overalls loop, Joseph looks down on Mary and the Christ child; the Three Wise Men kneel down, each placing "a penny on the bench beside Mary."[6] The shared dialect and sociolect is based on mutual assumptions and past history as a point of reference, and many of these assumptions are shared by both black and white residents. (As an educated black who is therefore automatically judged by both races to be a partial "outsider," Grant, at several points, violates the repressive code that prohibits blacks from using standard English. For example, he almost makes the "mistake" of properly pronouncing "batteries" with three syllables, instead of the regional "batteries" expected by Sheriff Guidry and other whites.) The communal norms can be restrictive, but Grant's reaction is to dismiss entirely the importance of communal history, and in doing so he sets aside the belief in historical consequences that underpins all forms of social responsibility.

In opposition to Grant's uncommitted perspective, Gaines asserts the importance of belief in a coherent system of human responsibility. A Lesson Before Dying is structured around the dominant metaphor of the "lesson," with its attendant figures of "teacher" and "pupil." Developing his metaphor of education, Gaines employs the idea of the "teacher who must learn." Grant Wiggins, the central consciousness in A Lesson Before Dying, is an elementary school teacher in the fictional Bayonne, Louisiana. Viewing his role as teacher in a purely mechanical way as he teaches reading, writing, and arithmetic and "drills" the class in preparation for the annual visit of Dr. Joseph, the school inspector, Grant's intention of making his class "responsible young men and young ladies" (p. 39) must be taken as quite ironic. From the community's perspective, the teacher's knowledge must be reliable and comprehensive, and the teacher himself a "model" for his students; consequently, the teacher's lifestyle and demeanor are examined for imperfections. Grant fails this high standard set by the community, and he must look to Jefferson as a model of learning that is based on more than "book knowledge." Ultimately Grant is willing to embody the community's values of moral education in his daily life, including a willingness to humble himself before his elders. Grant's accommodation with Rev. Ambrose, and his acquiescence toward Tante Lou and her friend Miss Emma, are crucial narrative actions, for they enact his changing attitudes toward a traditional community. By embracing his role within his own history, Grant finally becomes a teacher in the fullest sense: one seeking "'to relieve pain, to relieve hurt,'" as Rev. Ambrose puts it (p. 218).

From Grant's initial point of view, one of the "flawed" aspects of his history is the dependence of African-American society on Christianity. Grant's conflict between religion and secular humanism, reaching back to his adolescent rejection of the church, repeats a familiar situation in Gaines's work, but in this novel there is more understanding of the function of Christianity within social community and a warning concerning the social, if not spiritual, consequences of its repression. The religious calendar against which the novel's events take place, beginning one month before Christmas and ending the second Friday after Easter, introduces a meaningful annual cycle around which the local community organizes its life. The enactment of the Nativity, the passage of Lent, and the festivity of Easter Sunday are shared experiences that are passed down from one generation to the next; they form one basis of shared communication between individuals. However, Grant's condescending attitude toward the Bible verses that his pupils recite is indicative of a more general complacency toward his people and their particular culture: "After listening to one or two of the verses, I tuned out the rest of them. I had heard them all many times," Grant says (p. 33).7 Yet in the crucible of events leading up to Jefferson's execution, Grant comes to understand the role of religion as a collective narrative of hope within a traditional community. Although Grant may never be convinced of the truth of Christian dogma, he does come to accept the value of belief, as he sees it work through the agency of Rev. Ambrose, and its productive and unifying role within the community.

Grant's earlier denial of religious belief was connected to his denial of the potential for "heroism" in himself. To paraphrase the argument between Grant and Rev. Ambrose, any significant self-sacrifice in life, especially for one faced by an imminent death sentence, appears to require faith in an existence that continues after death; in the context of Southern rural society, to deny the afterlife is to undercut the very basis of responsibility that holds the community together and that binds individuals to the community, educating them to norms of behavior based on an acceptance of social responsibility. What Grant sees as his own intellectual "honesty," his refusal to "lie" to Jefferson about his skepticism concerning the afterlife, amounts to an abnegation of participation in a particular community. It is a refusal to take seriously the belief system of the time and place in which he lives, and inevitably his skepticism becomes a corrupting model for others. In a sense, Grant is responsible for Jefferson's presence during the murder of a liquor store-owner, and for the other youths who murder. Once the binding of shared values is severed, discrete acts of irresponsibility and violence occur with increasing frequency. The individual is unable to invent a personal culture; human civilization is the shared creation of the human masses over time. Despite his air of narrow-minded dogmatism, Rev. Ambrose sums up this conception of cultural order with his remark to Grant that "'long as I can stand on my feet, I owe her [Miss Ella] and all the others every ounce of my being. And you do too'" (p. 216).

Grant mechanically repeats this message of moral obligation to Jefferson: "'No matter how bad off we are... we still owe something'" (p. 139), yet Grant views this obligation in merely personal, not communal, terms (as evidenced by his consuming yet unfulfilling relationship with Vivian Baptiste, which ironically might lead to their "running away together"), He does not yet understand the more universal responsibility of human beings for others outside of an intimate relationship, and he has little if any sense of obligation to ancestors or descendants. Characteristically, as Grant gradually comes to understand the human need for shared belief, he does so by relating it to his literary education. After listening to the old men relating the exploits of Jackie Robinson, Grant thinks of James Joyce's "Ivy Day in the Committee Room," through which he discovers the universality of the need for heroes, whether in Ireland or in Louisiana. Only at the very end, however, does Grant connect his reading with the situation he now faces, of trying to convert Jefferson, and necessarily to convert himself, to the belief in responsibilities beyond his own immediate needs or feelings. Thinking of Jefferson just before the execution, Grant asks: "Have I done anything to make you not believe? If I have, please forgive me for being a fool" (p. 249). Reflecting on how Rev. Ambrose is able "to use their God to give him strength," (p. 240), Grant thinks now of the "old man's" fortitude, yet he still refuses to kneel and pray with his students. Following the execution, a butterfly appears in the field of bull grass and flies away, signaling the passage of Jefferson's soul. Still uncertain of his own belief, Grant nonetheless tells his new friend Paul: "'You have to believe to be a teacher'" (p. 254).

Behind the fabric of the novel one pert:elves Gaines's usage of his fable as a "lesson"--really a form of chastisement (a "lesson" in a remediating sense)--to instruct the reader in a fundamental truth about moral choice and historical immersion. Like Grant, and like Jefferson, all human beings are "condemned" by their involvement in history, facing the same "death sentence" by virtue of their mortality, and forced by their nature to become actors within a historical context that limits potentiality. Like Grant and Jefferson, all face a fundamental and inescapable decision: to choose to be actors within a flawed and unjust history or to withdraw from it as passive "victims" or onlookers. Grant's "lesson" leads him to adopt a more comprehensive and, paradoxically, more local perspective based on his own commitment to a particular place, His relationship with Vivian leads to a more earnest commitment to particular human beings, for after she becomes pregnant with his child, Grant's relationship to the entire community gradually changes. As Vivian is forced by the terms of her divorce to remain within visiting distance of her ex-husband, Grant is now also tied to the area. His dream of escaping the South, perhaps moving back to California (and, in fact, of fleeing all connection with particular human communities), is replaced by the necessity to remain and to change the social conditions of a specific place.

The conflict between Grant and Rev. Ambrose is symbolized by the radio that Grant brings Jefferson. Characterized as a "sin box" by Rev. Ambrose, the radio is viewed as merely "company" by Grant. At first Jefferson plays the "sin box" loudly enough to distract his mind from what Rev. Ambrose and Miss Emma are trying to do for him, but finally the radio, while still playing the night before his execution, is muted. As Grant increasingly reconciles with Rev. Ambrose, and as Grant's new influence is felt by Jefferson, the radio continues to play but ceases to be a distraction. Its muted play reflects the accommodation of Grant and Rev. Ambrose. More important than the radio, Grant brings Jefferson a pencil and paper and suggests that Jefferson write down his thoughts, especially the thoughts that come to him at night:. This gift leads to an important development in Jefferson's character: the beginning of his self-expression and communication with others.

The awakening of self-respect in Jefferson is paralleled by Grant's restoration as a responsible human being who believes in his own self-worth, especially in his role as a teacher. Watching the enjoyment of his fifth- and sixth-graders sawing and chopping wood (tasks familiar to their ancestors in slavery times), Grant had wondered if he had taught them anything. Repeating the lives of the older black men, the boys show little interest in the educational skills that, Grant believes, will lift them out of rural poverty. As one reviewer noted, "Grant's own struggle with self-contempt and hatred for his students" was in part the legacy of his teacher, Matthew Antoine, and this struggle "culminate Is] in his jailhouse mission to resurrect Jefferson."[8] It may seem troubling yet Jefferson's sacrificial death seems to be a necessary prelude to Grant's self-discovery--which emerges fully only at the moment of Jefferson's death. Jefferson's individual heroism not only restores Grant's faith and gives the dying Miss Emma someone "to be proud of"; it lifts the community as a whole beyond its habitual posture of "broken men." The very definition of a "hero," as Grant recites it to Jefferson, is of one "who does something for other people... something that: other men don't and can't do" (p. 191). Perhaps stated most directly and eloquently, "a hero does for others" (p. 191). Implicitly this definition has been understood by Grant's class, if not immediately by their teacher, as they perform the Nativity pageant with its celebration of Christ as "a hero [who] does for others."

Implicit in Gaines's definition is the realization that heroic action implies social connection: heroism in the peculiar modernist sense of the isolated aesthete shaping a private mythology is unthinkable. Rather, heroism arises out of the hero's sense of relationship to a community (the most striking embodiment of such heroism is the 110-year-old Jane Pittman's participation in a protest march at the conclusion of her life). The act of heroism, in fact, is collective, for it is impossible without the community's participation. In A Lesson Before Dying, the women participate in and incite the heroism of Grant and Jefferson by a number of actions that reinforce their communal ties. In prison,Jefferson responds to Miss Emma by eating a bit of her gumbo--signaling his acknowledgment of his social ties to her. Similarly, following his run-in with the two mulattos at the Rainbow Club, Grant is served food by Vivian as a mark of her concern. Again, Tante Lou sends Grant food when he feels most depressed. At the Rainbow Club the waitress Thelma, who loans Grant her hard-earned money to buy Jefferson a radio, insists on serving him food in a ritual that reinforces their common beliefs and hopes. All of these examples of providing sustenance are ritual actions that suggest a faith in life. As David E. Vancil writes, Gaines associates a "sustaining resilience" with women: "Without the hope that these women provide through their belief in redemption in the future, life would be intolerable."[9] The serving and partaking of food is an elemental ritual activity, and the manner in which a meal is shared is closely connected with the idea of shared humanity, especially in the context of a person awaiting execution. Visiting Jefferson in the prison dayroom, Miss Emma and Tante Lou make a point of "setting the table" in a respectable fashion by bringing a tablecloth, silverware, and cloth napkins for the table service. The meal is not merely for sustenance but to embody in the ritual a certain image of human existence--in this case, the choice to restrain animal impulses and to share a meal with dignity--an act, which to use the language of the novel, separates "man" from "hog." Thus, by the end of the novel the "gallon" of ice cream that Jefferson requests is changed to a "cup," to be consumed following a meal cooked by Miss Emma. Jefferson's final meal is dignified, not the gorging he had envisioned.

The lesson that Jefferson gradually discovers in himself and that others learn from him surely has to do with what it means to be a civilized human being. The "dayroom" is important as the setting for Jefferson's transformation, for in the dayroom visits can take place with a sense of dignity, as everyone can sit around a table instead of having to stand or crouch in Jefferson's cramped cell. Walking around the dayroom with Grant, Jefferson begins crying because of his certainty that "lowly as I am, I am still part of the whole" (p. 194). This is the beginning of Jefferson's knowledge of a humanity learned only with the support of Miss Emma, Tante Lou, Grant, Rev. Ambrose, and countless others in the village. Appropriately, the novel ends with the establishment of several friendships, including that of Miss Emma and Jefferson, Jefferson and Grant, Grant and the white deputy Paul, suggesting the fabric of community that is tied so closely to the ideal of education in the novel. Jefferson has never spoken of friendship to anyone, but on the eve of execution he not only declares it but begins to articulate its meaning in his crudely written but eloquent journal: "i just feel like tellin you i like you but i dont kno how to say this cause i aint never say it to nobody before an nobody aint never say it to me .... i aint done this much thinkin and this much writin in all my life befor" (pp. 228-229).

Of course, it is not only Jefferson who is in need of communal support, or who, in a larger sense, is "dying." Every human being is mortal and thus exists in need of the assuaging and supportive rituals that Gaines details in A Lesson Before Dying. As we have seen, Grant Wiggins's cynicism concerning human potential parallels Jefferson's despair following his trial. Those who are ill or dying are in equal need of support. After Miss Emma, distraught over the impending execution, takes to her sickbed, a crowd gathers at her house, now managed by Tante Lou. The universal practice of "visiting" to express support for the sick and/or dying is acted out in a way that demonstrates the communal mores. In another example, members of the community employ clothing to express their sense of deference for an important occasion. At the Nativity performance, all show up appropriately dressed in their "going-to-town clothes," different from "Sunday best" and from ordinary working clothes. Following the intricate regulations of a traditional community, human beings take responsibility, to the extent possible, for their own appearance on such important occasions. Through the use of such shared signals, a system of communal support and faith is maintained.

It is precisely this group involvement in the process of change that William L. Andrews stresses in his reading of Gaines: "the folk has assumed over the years an identity based on progressive struggle... the struggle to recognize and conserve its spiritual and heroic folk traditions."[10] As a social realist, Gaines pursues an aesthetic in which character is embedded in the process of a concrete social history and in which ethical choices are shown to have particular consequences. Given this artistic and social ideology, Gaines's fiction takes the form of a chastisement--a "lesson before dying" for the reader, who is equally involved in historical process. All images of chastisement (Grant's correction of his students, Tante Lou's correction of Grant, Rev. Ambrose's lecture to Grant, Jefferson's restoration to dignity) are related and subsumed to the overriding lesson of social responsibility, which itself is commensurate with a recognition of social change as dependent on human agency. The importance of the social community lies in its power to support and pass on traditional knowledge, particularly knowledge of ethical consequences. As a writer working within a classic tradition of social realism, Gaines has contributed to an understanding of the historical context of African-American society and he has envisioned progressive change through the agency of its members.

  1. Ernest J. Gaines, "A Very Big Order: Reconstructing Identity," Southern Review, 26 (May 1990), 250.
  2. Throughout this essay I rely heavily on the narrative theory of Georg Lukacs, particularly "The Ideology of Modernism," in The Meaning of Contemporary Realism (New York: Prometheus, 1979) and The Historical Novel (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990). William L. Andrews,Jerry H. Bryant ("Ernest J. Gaines: Change, Growth, and History," Southern Review, 10 [October 1974], 851-864), Michel Fabre ("Bayonne or the Yoknapatawpha of Ernest Gaines," Callaloo, [May 1978], 110-124), and Charles H. Rowell ("The Quarters: Ernest Gaines and the Sense of Place," Southern Review, 21 [July 1985], 733-750), among others, have examined the aesthetic implications of Gaines's historical narrative.
  3. See, for example, Charles H. Rowell, "'This Louisiana Thing That Drives Me': An Interview with Ernest J. Gaines," Callaloo, 1 (May 1978), 39-51.
  4. Daisy Maryles, "Behind the Bestsellers," Publishers Weekly, September 22, 1997, p. 21.
  5. Bernard Magnier, "Ernest J. Gaines Talks to Bernard Magnier," UNESCO Courier, 4 (April 1995), 7.
  6. Ernest J. Gaines, A Lesson Before Dying (New York: Vintage, 1994), p. 150.
  7. At the same time, Gaines remains realistic about the function of both white and black Christianity within the social and political order of the South. Filtering his commentary through Grant's consciousness, Gaines ironically notes the lack of true "sensitivity" among Christians toward the taking of life: "Always on Friday. Same time as He died, between twelve and three. But they can't take this one's life too soon after the recognition of His death, because it might upset the sensitive few. It can happen less than two weeks later, though, because even the sensitive few will have forgotten about their Savior's death by then" (p. 158). (The date set for Jefferson's execution is delayed to April 8, two weeks after Easter.)
  8. "Review of A Lesson Before Dying," Black Scholar, 25 (Spring 1995), 66.
  9. David E. Vancil, "Redemption According to Ernest Gaines," African American Review, 28 (Fall 1994), 490.
  10. William L. Andrews, "'We Ain't Going Back There': The Idea of Progress in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman," Black American Literature, Forum, 11 (Winter 1977), 149.
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By Jeffrey J. Folks, Doshisa University

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