Suffering through the horrors of racism, black Americans appear to have no chance of progression in society. Generation after generation of being uneducated and treated like animals has left the black community in shambles, and thinking they are not as good as the whites. In the 1940's it was difficult to find a black man who could read and write. The black man's illiteracy caused them to believe that they were less civilized than the whites. In Ernest Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying, we are introduced to Jefferson, an uneducated, average black man who has been wrongly accused of a murder. Convinced that he is an animal, Jefferson is going to be taught by Reverend Ambrose and Grant Wiggins, the plantation schoolteacher, that he is actually a man. Because Reverend Ambrose, and Grant Wiggins have such different teaching beliefs and personalities, they approach teaching Jefferson with conflicting views.
Reverend Ambrose and Grant Wiggins have very different educational backgrounds, which causes them to become foils for each other. Grant Wiggins is a very important man in the black community, because he is the only one with a college education. Many whites have not received this high of an education, and are offended by his intelligence. Reverend Ambrose, a man who has received very little formal education, is ignorant compared to Grant.
Ambrose, the religious leader of the black community, has been educated in the world of faith and religion. When reverend Ambrose says in a verbal confrontation with Grant, "I'm the one that's educated.(Gaines 215 )", we are able to see that he thinks his knowledge of faith is more important than Grant's 'reading, riting, and rithmatic'. Grant and Reverend Ambrose represent the two types of attitude towards the racism within the black community, wanting to escape from it and accepting it. When Grant says in conversation to Ambrose, " I don't owe anybody anything"(Gaines 216), it becomes evident that Grant has gained the feeling that he does not need to do anything to improve the community, but just wants to have nothing to do with it. This is in contrast with the reverend's feeling the need to save people souls so they can have eternal happiness.
Grant and Reverend Ambrose have different perspectives of the world. Grant uses his education to see the world as it really is, but Reverend Ambrose on the other hand uses his knowledge of faith to cover the world of racism up and lives knowing that God is watching over him. When Grant says, "No I don't believe in it [heaven]"(Gaines 217), we see that Grant believes that the only chance he has at living is his present life, racial persecution. Grant feels that since this racially prejudice world is all he will ever have a chance in, he wants to get away from it. By Ambrose's saying, "Me, I'm found"(Gaines 217) it becomes clear that he believes that he is saved and will go to heaven. He feels no need to seek a better life, because he...