It is the 1940s in rural Louisiana and Jefferson has been sentenced to death for being a black man in the wrong place and at the wrong time. Undeebook
It is the 1940s in rural Louisiana and Jefferson has been sentenced to death for being a black man in the wrong place and at the wrong time. Understanding that the fact of his execution cannot be changed, Grant's aunt and Jefferson's Godmother want Grant to find a way to help Jefferson to face his death with dignity.
This is a book about the power of small resistance and the ripple effect that one person can create. The frequent allusions to Christ help the reader to understand that Jefferson's execution can provide a redemptive function for his community-- if he can rise above his circumstances (can rise from hog to man to hero/martyr) then it helps others to believe that perhaps they also can rise. We see the profound impact that Jefferson's ability to stand like a man, to be the "strongest man in the room", has on Paul. While subtler (but admittedly he had farther to travel), we also see evidence of some impact on Sherriff Guidry.
The structure of this book is somewhat problematic. I found it, nonetheless, very moving, affective, and powerful.
This is a fairly short book. The problem, even flaw, is that too much of the central concern of the book happens off-page. The development of the relationship between Grant and Jefferson-- and the transformative power of that relationship--is key. But huge jumps of time happen between the visits so that we do not get to experience the development of that relationship-- we just have to take it as a matter of faith based on the glimpses that we do get. Instead, Gaines uses relatively large chunks of the book to explore the mundane details of daily life for an educated man living (trapped) in Louisiana in the 1940s. It is not at all that these details are irrelevant-- they provide an important backdrop for understanding the environment that created both Jefferson and Grant. It is really just that the book is too short to properly exposit everything that will help the reader to reach the end of the novel with Grant and Jefferson. Allowing the reader to see the transformation would have been more powerful then telling the reader that the transformation occurred.
Quotes: (view spoiler)[ "I don't know when I'm going to die, Jefferson. Maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, maybe today. That's why I try 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. I don't want to hurt those people. I want to help those people as much as I can." Ch17
"I want me a whole gallona ice cream...A whole gallona vanilla ice cream. Eat it with a pot spoon...Ain't never had enough ice cream...But now I'm go'n get me a whole gallon. That's what I want-- a whole gallon. Eat it with a pot spoon." Ch22
"Do you know what a myth is, Jefferson...A myth is an old lie that people believe in. White people believe that they're better than anyone else on earth--and that's a myth. The last thing they ever want is to see a black man stand, and think, and show that common humanity is in us all. It would destroy their myth. They would no longer have justification for having made us slaves and keeping us in the condition we are in. As long as none of us stand, they're safe...I want you to chip away at that myth by standing. I want you--yes, you-- to call them liars. I want you to show them that you are as much a man-- more a man than they can ever be...They play by the rules their forefathers created hundreds of years ago. Their forefathers said that we're only three-fifths human-- and they believe it to this day. Sheriff Guidry does too. He calls me Professor, but he doesn't mean it...When I showed him the notebook and pencil I brought you, he grinned. Do you know why? He believes it was just a waste of time and money. What can a hog do with a pencil and paper?...I need you...I need you much more than you could ever need me. I need to know what to do with my life...I want to run away, but go where and do what? I'm needed here and I know it, but I feel that all I'm doing here is choking myself...I need someone to tell me what to do. I need you to tell me, to show me. I'm no hero; I can just give something small. That's all I have to offer. It is the only way that we can chip away at that myth. You-- you can be bigger than anyone you have ever met. Please listen to me, because I would not lie to you now. I speak from my heart. You have the chance of being bigger than anyone who has ever lived on that plantation or come from the little town..." Ch24
"You have seen how Mr. Farrell makes a slingshot handle. he starts with just a little piece of rough wood-- any little piece of scrap wood-- then he starts cutting. Cutting and cutting and cutting, then shaving. Shaves it down clean and smooth till it's not what it was before, but something new and pretty...And that's all we are, Jefferson, all of us on this earth, a piece of drifting wood, until we-- each one of us, individually--decide to become something else. I am still that piece of drifting wood, and those out there are no better. But you can be better. Because we need you to be and want you to be." Ch24
"paul trying to be hod when he aint like he dont want get too close to me no mo an all the time he is the only one rond yer know how to talk like a youman to people i know you paul an i kno ole clark an i know you too shef guiry and you mr picho and mr mogan an all the rest of yall i just never say non of this befor but i know yall ever las one of yall" ch29
'He was the strongest man in that crowded room, Grant Wiggins', Paul said...'When Vincent asked him if he had any last words, he looked at the preacher and said, 'Tell Nannan I walked.'...'You're one great teacher, Grant Wiggins,'
'I'm not great. I'm not even a teacher...You have to believe to be a teacher,' I said.
'I saw the transformation, Grant Wiggins,' Paul said.
'I didn't do it...Maybe he did it himself.'
'He never could have done that. I saw the transformation. I'm a witness to that...Allow me to be your friend, Grant Wiggins. I don't ever want to forget this day. I don't ever want to forget him.'