A Lesson Before Dying is set in rural Louisiana in the 1940’s. The setting is ripe for the racism displayed in the novel. Ernest J. Gaines weaves an intricate web of human connections, using the character growth of Grant Wiggins and Jefferson to subtly expose the effect people have on one another (Poston A1). Each and every character along the way shows some inkling of being a racist. However, Paul is an exception. He treats everyone as if he or she is equal to him whether the person is black or white. In A Lesson Before Dying, author Ernest J. Gaines displays the different levels of racism during the 1940’s through his use of characterization.
The author, Ernest Gaines, and the main character, Grant Wiggins, have much in common. Both were raised on a plantation in rural Louisiana. Grant and Gaines are both continue their education outside of the plantation. “The education to be gained in the California school system was better than that of the local plantation” (Napierkowski AB1). Napierkowski’s quote can be applied to both Grant and Gaines. Even though Grant is fiction, they continue their education in the state of California, and they come back home to Louisiana. Grant was heavily influenced by the women in his life in the novel. Jeffry Folks states, “The women that surround Grant in A Lesson Before Dying are all catalysts for his eventual change away from bitterness and doubts. They can be said to be the real force in the novel” (Folks B1). Folks also believes the role of women in A Lesson Before Dying is quite significant as they are the foundations of community and family. Folks is simply stating that Grant was pushed to succeed. In comparison, Ernest Gaines was pushed by his parents to further his education. They wanted him to become a better man, much like Grant teaches Jefferson to become a better man. Each man draws their drive from the people around them.
The setting of the novel is a rural plantation in Louisiana in the Deep South. Most of the story takes place on Henri Pichot’s plantation. He is a wealthy influential man in Bayonne who can influence many decisions. Being set in the 1940’s before civil rights, the whites reigned supreme, and the blacks were still seen as inferior. Gaines uses characters such as Sheriff Guidry, Henri Pichot, and Mr. Joseph Morgan to demonstrate the white mentality towards African Americans (Poston A1). The white mentality causes many negative feelings. Folks says, “Part of Grant’s bitterness stems from his negative feelings about the black population in his hometown” (Folks B1). Grant is always mad and discouraged by the vicious cycle the blacks are put through. “The reader is able to gain insight into Grant’s thoughts and frustrations through his conversations with Vivian, his girlfriend. He feels trapped in his present situation” (Poston A1).
The most racist characters in the novel are the whites. Paul is the exception to the stereotype. Paul does treat all African...