Lesson Before Dying Essay, Research Paper
uThe ending of A Lesson Before Dying gives the reader a sense of despair and then portrays a sense of optimism. Gaines’ writing is unique because the reader feels this hope for the future and optimism without Gaines having to say it. Instead, he wrote about the execution and the hope was picked up from the “little things.” At the reader feels disappointed because Jefferson has died. The optimism comes into play through Grant and the fact that he has learned his lesson(s) from Jefferson. It is also uplifting because Jefferson has died with dignity on the day meant for him. I think that Gaines also throws a curve in at the end through the character of Paul whose purpose seems to stress the hope for the future of Blacks in a white society.
When I first finish reading the novel, the very end was most significant. “I went up to the desk and turned to face them. I was crying.”(p.256). These last words are appropriate because they convey exactly how I felt as I finish the book, and how I think that Grant should feel. Throughout the novel I saw Grant as hard and unfeeling. He only went to see Jefferson out of respect for his aunt. Then at the end the reader saw him change to a person who was compassionate about Jefferson. This showed promise and hope for the future of Grant as a caring human being who just might learn to appreciate what he has been given.
After I finished the novel, I reread the last chapter because I felt like I had missed something. It was then that I noticed the little things that make the end as powerful as it is. “It was a nice day. Blue sky. Not a cloud.” (p.247). Grant was describing the setting for the day of the execution. A man, wrongly accused and wrongly sentenced, was going to die on the perfect day. This quote, though not significant to any other part of the novel, stood out to me because it showed hope for the day. It created a sense of happiness and calmness on an otherwise horrific event.
Another thing also stood out to me, similar to the previous quote. “Yes I told myself. It is finally over. I stood up and stretched and looked across the highway at the river, so tranquil, its water as blue as the sky. The willows near the edge of the water were just as still, and no breeze stirred the Spanish moss that hung from the cypresses.” Grant’s reflection on the atmosphere after the death of Jefferson creates a sense of perfect harmony within the little town that was in commotion just a few hours before. The river was perfect, and the willows did not move out of respect for the dead. This quote is a perfect example of how a novel is not just about the main story, but also about the little things that make a big impression.
I think the previous two quotes also stand out for another reason. Not only is the setting tranquil on the day Jefferson dies, but it also seems to counterpart the dignity Jefferson had accepting his death. It is as if the even the earth is walking with him because he has grown that much as a person. The world around him wants to help him be human as opposed to a hog. If he had fought his death until the last moment, I think that the weather might have been just a little more inclement.
I believe that Gaines made Paul a prevalent character at the end to show a white person’s role in Jefferson’s life and death. Paul comes into play through a conversation he has with Grant about Jefferson’s execution. At the end of his conversation, Paul tells Grant “I don’t ever want to forget this day. I don’t ever want to forget him.” (p255). I enjoyed the way that Gaines used Paul at the end to become someone significant to the plot. But what is even more powerful is the impression that a black man (Jefferson) made on a white man. Paul was truly moved by the improvements Grant made with Jefferson. Paul came to respect Grant as a teacher in the end by watching the way he was with Jefferson. The entire scene with Grant and Paul in the last chapter was necessary to the story because is showed some hope. If it was anyone else who delivered the notebook to Grant and told him about the execution, I think that it would not have been as emotional because Paul was there throughout the entire novel as a white man who cared about the blacks.
Besides the ending, all the setting descriptions, and the talk with Paul, there is still another part of the last chapter that makes the ending powerful. “Why wasn’t I there? Why wasn’t I standing beside him? Why wasn’t my arm around him? Why?” (p.250). This part where Grant is questioning himself shows that he has now started to truly question himself and his life purpose. It shows regret for not being there for Jefferson when he needed him most. Even though Grant should have been standing besides Jefferson when he died, at least he knew that he should have been. The “old” Grant wouldn’t have even questioned why he wasn’t by Jefferson’s side. Instead the “old” Grant would have been glad for the whole situation to be over with. But Grant learned his lesson, or at least he was on the right path.
After looking at all the circumstances, the end of the book is hopeful in the sense that Grant was sincere in his remorse and regrets, which was a sign of improvement. Of course, the ending is somber because Jefferson is dead, but he has died with dignity on the prefect day that was meant for him. This sense of dignity is uplifting. In addition, the earth accepted his death as he did. And Paul is a white person on the right path towards the beginning of the end of racism and symbolizes hope for the futre of humankind.