Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Lesson Before Dying Blog Posts

December 8, 2007

Racism does play a major role in the story. I agree that Grant responds in the same way to Dr. Joseph as his students do to him. It is because of authority and race as well. Dr. Joseph becomes angry when Grant requests for supplies. His mood changes from complements to criticism. Then a problem about hygiene is brought up. Grant states that “some of these children have never seen a toothbrush before…” (57). Grant knows how the world works. He knows that whites have more authority than blacks during the time.

I agree with both of the ways you view Jefferson Quan. Because of the way my mind works, I would understand Jefferson not caring more than the religious allusion. Why does Jefferson join the group of robbers anyway? I thought that Jefferson was an obedient and innocent child, and thus having condemned to death, lost any will to fight. Quan, you brought up the image of a hog again with the quote in your last paragraph. Hog is used to both justify and deface Jefferson. Back in the first chapter, Jefferson’s attorney says that he “would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this” (8). Here, the attorney is trying to justify that nothing would come from killing an intelligent man. This comparison at the same time portrays blacks as low, inferior animals.

“He had said the same thing the year before, and he had called me Higgins then too. And the year before that he had said the same thing, but he had called me Washington then. At least he was getting closer to my real name” (56). I believe that this passage foreshadows a change in the respects towards blacks, or at least Grant. He is getting closer to be called by his real name, Wiggins. A name signifies a man, not an animal such as a hog. However Higgins is not Grant’s real name, and therefore he is not a complete man yet.

Jefferson on the other hand, falls to eating like an animal. In a way this can signify man as well as animal. Having not eaten for a period of time, taking food is what both man and animal perform. He does not eat any corn, which Jefferson says that “hogs eat” (82). Grant even says “You’re not a hog, you’re a man” (83). Again here is another comparison between hog and man. Are there any other similarities between them?

Grant’s attitude towards Jefferson seems to have changed from the beginning of the novel. He does not complain as much as he did. Jefferson is more open to others now as well.

December 15, 2007

I agree that they are not the ones disrespecting Jefferson, but it is him that is at fault. As Quan stated, Emma and Tante and Ambrose all treat Jeff with respect; they bring him food, new clothes, and try to cheer him up in various ways. Grant’s reason for visiting Jeff is Vivian too. “It’s she who keeps me coming here. Not your nannan, not my aunt. Vivian. If I didn’t have Vivian, I wouldn’t be in this damn hole” (130). Vivian is a strong driving for Grant to stay in town as well as visit Jefferson. Jefferson is the one who is disrespectful; he doesn’t answer to Miss Emma or even look at her. Matt may have taken the slapping as the disrespect given to him. However, I believe that is justified due to Jeff’s attitude.

Grant and Vivian think of names for their future children, but are Vivian’s current children ever mentioned? I’m guessing that they hold no importance to Grant, as all he wants is Vivian, not her children. Any ideas? As for Quan’s question, I believe that the oppressed black community is what Grant doesn’t want for his children. Having grown up in such an era, maybe he doesn’t want his children to experience the same hardships. He wants to run away to a better community for his future.

In that same chapter, when Grant and Vivian come home, the church ladies arrived too. They question Vivian about her background and religion. Tante Lou asks questions: “How about your own folks?” (114), “You go to church?” (114), or “You go’n leave your church?” (114). Vivian is catholic and a mulatto. Earlier in the book, mulattos were compared to darker skinned people. The mulatto community is supposedly higher ranked than the blacks. This dividing line is also recognized by Tante Lou when she says “they don’t like dark-skin people” (114). After long interrogation, the church ladies conclude that Vivian is a “lady of quality” (116). They constantly repeat that she is a quality woman as she leaves. It is because she is catholic and believes in God, thus sharing many believes with the church ladies. She goes to church every Sunday and earns the respect of fellow religious members.

December 15, 2007

Grant also notices that Jefferson “had lost some weight. What had been a round, smooth face when he first came here was beginning to show some bone structure. His eyes were still bloodshot” (138). This shows that Jefferson has already started his march towards death. Soon after, Grant questions Jefferson about obligation and love. Jeff, however, replies and says that he is not a “youman” (139) –translated into human. I agree with Quan that there is a change in both characters as well as the conversation topics. Jeff is “the one go’n have to sit down” (139). This pun is sarcastic. Grant says that Emma has a place to sit out in the dayroom, and Jeff replies that he is the one that is going to sit—that is, in the electric chair. Grant has also come over a great change since the beginning. He doesn’t “want to hurt those [he loves]. [He] wants to help those people as much as [he] can” (129). In this moment, Grant talks maturely and seems to have learned a bit about living as a man. He knows now, and tells Jeff, “to live as well as I can every day and not hurt people. Especially people who love me, people who have done so much for me, people who have sacrificed for me” (129). Because Grant learns a bit about life, he can teach Jefferson how to live life well, conquering his previous problem of not knowing how to live as a man.

Also, the topic of Jesus comes up within their conversation. The executors were “fattening [Jeff] up for Christmas. Kill him at Christmastime” (140). A while back, Quan brought up the allusion to the Last Supper. Jefferson attempts to teach this to Miss Emma too, on page 112. Jesus eats his last supper before he is crucified. Jeff, a representation of Jesus, knows that when he eats his all, the only thing that follows is death.

In chapter 19, Jefferson’s relationship with Jesus is hinted once again. “After ‘Silent Night,’ the choir sang ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’” (147). This is foreshadowing Jeff’s fate. Jeff’s early stages after conviction are full of silence. He was silent and would barely talk to anyone, including Grant, who he talks most openly to as of right now. Now, after that stage is over, the plot heads to Bethlehem. Bethlehem is the setting of Nativity. Coming out from silence, Jeff will emerge as a savior, one who will represent the black community with pride.

December 16, 2007

I also noticed Jefferson’s moment of happiness. He actually smiled, “and it was not a bitter smile” (170). I agree with Quan that this is his “last supper” as it “would be on that last day” (171). Because Jefferson smiled, it shows that he has undergone a significant change. He is ready to be a savior now. He wants food, human food, not corn or any other food for hogs. It is this small moment when he shows his true feelings because it’s the first good thing that happened to him since he was jailed. Notice that this is happening on Friday, the day he and Jesus die, if that holds any significance.

About Stella’s child, I agree with Quan about Mary and the star in the sky. This can refer back to the statement made earlier about Jefferson’s revival (reborn). Perhaps this child is able to take on Jefferson’s path and continue to help change the community.

The scene in the store of the woman and Grant is a great example of racism. I do not think that the same thing would happen if Grant were to be a white man. After all, the woman paid more attention to the white customer that walks in when Grant was about to pay. I also found something interesting while Grant plays around with the radio on the shelf. He “could only find three, two in Baton Rouge and one in New Orleans. But that was normal for this time of day. At night you were able to tune in others. You could get one as far west as Del Rio, Texas, and another as far as Nashville” (175). I related the day-time as the current timeframe of the community right now. As of right now, Grant and Jefferson do not seem to reach many people, but perhaps later in the novel, there will be a change. More people will become influenced and will change. Radios obtain their stations by frequency waves. Getting only three close ones must mean that there is interference in the air blocking father waves. I believe that the interference in Jeff’s case are the white people who look down on him. It foreshadows the weakening of their power. Any ideas?

Gaines spends a paragraph talking about the word “here”. He says that the word “here” was one that an elder would say to someone when handing something precious and hard-earned to him. “When will all this end? When will a man not have to struggle to have money to get what he needs ‘here’? When will a man be able to live without having to kill another man ‘here’?” (174). Grant is still not mature enough to handle his own problems. However, not everyone is able to overcome problems by themselves; friends are there to provide help. Accepting help now is a way to help a man grow. He will learn from it and work until he does not need help. A man does not want to be shamed by pleading to others for aid more than once. Why do you guys think Gaines spends a paragraph on this word?

December 26, 2007

“He needs God in that cell, and not that sin box” (181). Reverend Ambrose yells at Grant saying that Jefferson needs God. It may be a bit late, but I noticed that throughout the novel Reverend Ambrose acts as an opposite of Grant. Ambrose always opposed Grant’s methods. He did not approve of the radio because it entranced Jefferson in sin music. The only music that would be approved is sermon or holy music. Ambrose is always left out; he’s “the one that’s not needed” (183). He feels inferior because Jefferson “he can’t hear [Ambrose] through that wall of sin” (183). “He, the minister, thought that since Jefferson had only a short time left to live, it should be he in control, and not [Grant]” (196). Grant is the only person Jeff is open towards.

The word “hog” shows up again in chapter 23. Grant says that “you can take [the radio] from him. But you won’t reach him if you do” (183). Grant is addressing Ambrose in this sentence, and Ambrose represents God. If God takes away the radio, “the only thing that keeps him from thinking he is not a hog” (183), there will be nothing but a hog. As Jeff would say, ‘music is for youmans’. With the radio, Jefferson is more of a human—he wants ice cream and write in a notebook. I wonder what would happen if he were to return to the hog state. Would Grant’s work be for null?

I also noticed that talk about soul pops out here again. I think that it disappeared throughout the middle of the novel. Why does it appear out again now? Is it because Reverend Ambrose suddenly makes another appearance? God always follows the followers of the church, and thus salvation of the soul comes along with it. I believe this shows that God or Ambrose had little impact on Jeff. Most of the influence was from Grant—not God.