Read a book by an African American author. These eight words instilled fear throughout me as I sat in my third hour English class. Immediately I pictured long, repetitive books, based on African Americans' struggles in slavery or Jim Crow south. Not to say these books are bad, but they aren't my cup of tea. So, that evening I set out to find a book I would enjoy for this assignment. From a quick Google search, I came across a book, A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest J. Gaines. After Reading a short review, I was intrigued.
A Lesson Before Dying follows two men who have given up on life, one a school teacher and another a man on death row for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and the wrong race. Grant, the school teacher, has been tasked with making Jefferson, the man on death row, a "man" before he is executed, as Jefferson's lawyer compared him to a hog-- and therefore less of a man-- in the trial. As Jefferson and Grant's stories develop, the reader learns what the south in the 1940's was like. Beneath this, questions about what it means to be human, how others' opinions impact your own thoughts, and what it takes to be a hero unfold. This simply written and seemingly straightforward novel slowly reveals itself to be anything but that.
Gaines' novel is still relevant today. Jefferson's situation - being imprisoned because of circumstance and his race - is similar to what African Americans continue to face today. They have been jailed or shot simply due to skin color. This causes me to question-- do people today still feel how Jefferson did in prison? Thrown away simply because of their race?
This is a book for history buffs, psychology lovers, or anyone in between. However, read it with caution, and maybe a tissue box near by. You can't help but feel for Jefferson, and as he lives his last few days in prison, it might get to you.
Emma Hammelef is a junior at Novi High School. She is on the volleyball and track teams, and is in the band. In her free time she loves to read and draw. Emma aspires to study bio-medical engineering or go into medicine after high school.