Dignity in Southern Society in A Lesson Before Dying, Autobiography of Jane Pittman, and Of Love and Dust
The ante-bellum Southern social system put blacks in a low economic and social class and limited their pursuit of happiness. The aristocracy firmly held blacks in emotional and spiritual slavery. Cajuns, Creoles and poor whites maintained a low status in society, which frustrated them because they felt they should be superior to blacks and equal to whites. Racism was a base of southern society and a hope to improve life and gain respect.
Ernest J. Gaines grew up in Southern Louisiana and his aunt Augusteen Jefferson taught him "the art of living with dignity" (Current 201). In The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, the main character, Jane, narrates her life that spans from the Civil War to the 1960's. She portrays the lives of black people fighting against the stigma of social inferiority in order to live out their dreams. Of Love and Dust depicts rebellious radical characters striving for new standards of equality in the reformation of a small traditional community. A Lesson Before Dying shows Grant Wiggins's and Jefferson's personal battles toward reforming themselves, and their community's battle to earn self-respect. Living in subordination compromises freedoms of socio-economic mobility. Gaines's characters rebel by fighting against suppression to achieve deserved rights and privileges. They achieve dignity through the struggle to hold onto the honor won from society. . Ernest J. Gaines describes people surviving within the social system at the same time as they overcome it to find dignity and freedom from prejudices.
Living in subordination compromises freedoms of socio-economic mobility.
In The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman characters challenge a system that places them in subordination in order to help them find an identity and better their lives. At the end of the Civil War, Ticey (Jane), an eleven year-old slave, is introduced to personal identity by Corporal Brown, a Yankee soldier who passes through her plantation: "Ticey is a slave name..." he says to her and temporarily renames her Miss Jane Brown (Pittman 8). Critic Valerie Babb concludes that "the soldier's altering a label of slavery reveals a new world of control to her...for the first time in her life Jane has the option of deciding whether or not she will retain it" (82). Jane quickly learns that her newly found identity threatens the master and mistress, and she is beaten for demanding to be called "Miss," a title of respect. She shows them she is an individual with dignity, rather than an inferior being and takes the control that they assumed over her. The soldier directs Jane's strong character and convictions which results in her insubordination toward white authority. She continues through her life looking for "the One," a black leader to free her people from the bondage to whites.