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A Lesson Before Dying
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message 1: by ColumbusReads (last edited Feb 01, 2014 08:30PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3717 comments Mod
It's February! Let's get started tomorrow morning with questions if you're ready. I read A Lesson Before Dying the first week it was released, Jan '93. The review of this book from the Detroit News was so powerful that I bought the book upon days of its release. I clipped out the review from the paper back then and it's still inside the book jacket to this day. I absolutely love this book. It's the only book I've read by the author and I figured I didn't need to read his other books because nothing could compare. So...who has started, finished, still reading or waiting on a copy?


ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3717 comments Mod
Oh, and what other books have you read by this author?


Michael | 432 comments I've got this from the library in both paper and ebook format, so I can read on the go and at home! I've not read anything else by Ernest J. Gaines, but the eight titles listed on the inside leaf of the book leave a lot of choices. I'd be interested to know from any other readers whether his other books are as good or if this is considered his tour de force.


Jean | 140 comments Gaines also wrote The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, which I loved.


ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3717 comments Mod
Jean wrote: "Gaines also wrote The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, which I loved."

That's right, Jean. I think up until '93 when A Lesson was released, Miss Jane Pittman was his "masterpiece." A Lesson sort of usurped that one, many would say. I've never read Jane Pittman (however, the movie was phenomenal and required watching in school). Did you have a preference for which book you enjoyed more?


message 6: by Beverly (last edited Feb 02, 2014 07:22AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Beverly | 2873 comments Mod
I also read A Lesson Before Dying when it was first released.

But by that time - Ernest J. Gaines was one my fav authors (still is).

I have read the following:
Catherine Carmier
Of Love and Dust
Bloodline: Five Stories
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
In My Father's House
A Gathering of Old Men

They have recently reissued A Long Day in November. So I have this book on my ereader to read. Also bought a copy for grandson - as this is a middle school read.

Also have Mozart and Leadbelly on my tbr list.

Along with A Lesson Before Dying - my favorites are Catherine Carmier and Of Love and Dust. Gaines introduced me into the world of northern Louisiana in the 50s & 60s. I was captured by language, storytelling abilities, and his telling of a time and place.


Beverly | 2873 comments Mod
Here is a list of his awards:

National Medal of Arts (2013)
The Sidney Lanier Prize for Southern Literature (2012)
Academy of Achievement Golden Plate Award (2001)
Chevalier (Knight) of the Order of Art and Letters (France) (2000)
The American Academy of Arts and Letters Department of Literature (2000)
The National Governors’ Arts Award (2000)
The Louisiana Writer Award (2000)
National Humanities Medal (2000)
National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction (1993)
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellow (1993)
Dos Passos Prize (1993)
Louisiana Humanist of the Year (1993)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation fellow (1971)
National Endowment for the Arts grant (1967)
Wallace Stegner fellow (1957)


ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3717 comments Mod
Ernest J. Gaines:

Video clip of the author discussing his life and his motivation for writing, A Lesson Before Dying:
http://youtu.be/D3_1UKt3Nw8

Biography:
http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/pa...

Oxford Magazine List of the 25 Best Southern Novels of All Time (judged by experts & authors):
http://thegreatestbooks.org/lists/33

Are there any others you would add or replace to this list?

There are quite a few excellent reading guides for this classic work of literature and we can use them starting February 6th. Of course, you're always free to add your own.


TIFFANY ANDERSON (miss5elements) | 144 comments This is my first novel from Gaines, but I did see "Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman" on tv as a kid. I didn't realize he's been so honored. That makes this read even more exciting.


message 10: by ColumbusReads (last edited Feb 02, 2014 02:29PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3717 comments Mod
Ok, I'm gonna say this. I really, really, really wanted The House Behind the Cedars to be selected this month because I had read Gaines book, understood that it's a classic - and deservedly so - and wanted an unknown book to be selected. But, I'm really surprised at how many people have not read this book and now I'm extremely excited, elated, gleeful... that this book was selected. Mr, Ewell I know you're tired of hearing it, but -- Thank you for adding it and to the group for selecting it!


message 11: by Rebecca (last edited Feb 02, 2014 02:17PM) (new)

Rebecca | 386 comments Columbus, you beat me to it. I wanted to kind of whine about The House Behind the Cedars not being chosen though. :)
I really wanted The House Behind the Cedars too. I probably will read it at some point.
I have never read A Lesson Before Dying. Sounds like we are going to have a great discussion.


message 12: by ColumbusReads (last edited Feb 02, 2014 02:38PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3717 comments Mod
Rebecca wrote: "Columbus, you beat me to it. I wanted to kind of whine about The House Behind the Cedars not being chosen though. :)
I really wanted The House Behind the Cedars too. I probably will read it at some..."


Same here, Rebecca. It's available at my local library and I intend to pick it up in the next couple of days if I don't go ahead and purchase it. I need to check to see if there's a discounted ebook available for this classic! Hmmm. I read Chestnuts, The Marrow of Tradition with this group several years ago and absolutely loved it. He's an incredible writer.


Beverly | 2873 comments Mod
Columbus wrote: "Rebecca wrote: "Columbus, you beat me to it. I wanted to kind of whine about The House Behind the Cedars not being chosen though. :)
I really wanted The House Behind the Cedars too. I probably wil..."


I guess I was always hoping for The House Behind the Cedars to win also. :)

I too have read The Marrow of Tradition but will have to say that my fav by Chestnutt is The Wife of His Youth.

Yes, a wonderful writer!!!


ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3717 comments Mod
Beverly wrote: "Columbus wrote: "Rebecca wrote: "Columbus, you beat me to it. I wanted to kind of whine about The House Behind the Cedars not being chosen though. :)
I really wanted The House Behind the Cedars to..."


Oh goodness Beverly I'm not even familiar with that one. I guess I'll have to add this one too.


Janet | 224 comments thank you, Columbus, for all these resources. finished the book yesterday. in some ways it made me think of The Street, by Ann Petry, in its unrelentingly pervasive sense of futility, and the endless reach of racism. Gaines' prose feels less dated, in some ways, but both books are powerfully relevant and current. looking forward to hearing others' views about Lesson before Dying.


message 16: by Jean (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jean | 140 comments Columbus wrote: "Jean wrote: "Gaines also wrote The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, which I loved."

That's right, Jean. I think up until '93 when A Lesson was released, Miss Jane Pittman was his "masterpiece."..."


I enjoyed both tremendously.


message 17: by Jean (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jean | 140 comments Columbus wrote: "Jean wrote: "Gaines also wrote The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, which I loved."

That's right, Jean. I think up until '93 when A Lesson was released, Miss Jane Pittman was his "masterpiece."..."


I enjoyed both tremendously.


Nikki (kiyoko5) | 10 comments Columbus wrote: "It's February! Let's get started tomorrow morning with questions if you're ready. I read A Lesson Before Dying the first week it was released, Jan '93. The review of this book from the Detroit News..."

I read this book a few years ago for an AA lit class and I really enjoyed it. Hopefully the discussion will jog my memory.


message 19: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca | 386 comments I plan on starting today. I read the first sentence and can tell this is going to be a very compelling, well written book. I very much enjoyed the clip and will watch it again. Such great wisdom and insight seem to come out of him. Thank you Columbus.


message 20: by Ian (last edited Feb 05, 2014 05:19PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Braddy | 1 comments so I just joined this group but am excited about jumping in.

I was looking around the group page and in the poetry section saw a poem by Claude Mckay that I had not heard of ["If We Must Die"]--so I read it and was struck by how well it read next to A Lesson Before Dying. I'm only halfway done with the novel, which I have never read before, but I wrote the poem in the blank pages at the end of the book and keep turning back to it.


Rakisha (cutestlilbookworm) | 1 comments I read this book a few years back and thought it was excellent and am looking forward to this discussion. Although I need to brush up on a few details of this book, I remember the ending leaving me in silent contemplation for a few moments.


message 22: by ColumbusReads (last edited Feb 06, 2014 05:42AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3717 comments Mod
Ok, the discussion starts now...Here's a question from The Big Read:

A Lesson Before Dying is mostly narrated by the teacher Grant Wiggins from the first-person point of view. What important attributes does he reveal about himself in the opening chapters? What kinds of things does he conceal?


Shannon Rakisha wrote: "I read this book a few years back and thought it was excellent and am looking forward to this discussion. Although I need to brush up on a few details of this book, I remember the ending leaving me..."

Same here. I remember the ending. Even though I knew it was coming, through the entire book I knew it was coming. But it messed me up.

If anyone else would like a refresher, I reviewed it here: http://readinghaspurpose.blogspot.com...

No spoilers included.


Michael | 432 comments Columbus wrote: "What important attributes does he reveal about himself in the opening chapters? What kinds of things does he conceal?"

Wow, Columbus, this question is making me think! Here are my first thoughts - he reveals he is a teacher, he is in love with a woman named Vivian who is also a teacher, and to whom he confides his personal thoughts and feelings, he has a strong sense of deference to the wishes of his aunt and Miss Emma, he is thoughtful and respectful to others in the Black community, but chafes against and challenges the restrictions imposed by the whites around him, he hates the town where he lives and wants to get out, he chose to come back to teach after his education despite this, possibly because of his aunt. Also, he carefully considers and thinks about everything, he sees the connections to his life and Jefferson (I was not there, but I was there) and he very much wants to forget Jefferson rather than talk to him.

The things that are missing for me is the history - It sounds like Jefferson is 21 and Grant is maybe 26, so they could have been in school together growing up, but this is not clear. Was Grant ever Jefferson's teacher? If Grant hates town so much why hasn't he left? Why did he decide to teach? Is it significant that his girlfriend is married, is also a teacher?

I think one reason there are some holes is that Mr. Gaines seems to take the "show don't tell" philosophy of writing seriously. He doesn't tell you what year it is, he only tells you the year of the cars that people are driving. He doesn't tell you what town this is, he only tells you the nearby town names as they come into conversation. So historical information only comes into it when Grant decides to think about it, or in conversation. I have adapted to this and in fact I find the story just riveting and emotional, but because of this style it is hard to know what Grant is "concealing" and what just hasn't "come up" yet. Even the list above comes from me interpreting many things, not from him saying things outright.


ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3717 comments Mod
Michael wrote: "Columbus wrote: "What important attributes does he reveal about himself in the opening chapters? What kinds of things does he conceal?"

Wow, Columbus, this question is making me think! Here are m..."


Those are some mighty good questions you pose yourself, Michael. What do others think about this?

What are your thoughts on the book and how far are you in?


Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments The thing that I found interesting that he didn't explain is that, although his parents are in California, he chose instead to live with his aunt, contrary to what most of the Great Migration generation chose to do. His whole relationship with his parents remains sketchy.


Aitziber | 15 comments I am almost done with this book. It's my first Gaines book, too. :) It's been a very quick read so far, although the subject matter is so bleak.

I find one of the most prominent themes is masculinity and emasculation. I feel that both Grant and Jefferson feel emasculated (because they're powerless), and are angry about it. This theme was brought to its climax when Grant got into a fight with the mulatto bricklayers. At that point, what was the difference between Jefferson and Grant?


George | 759 comments well, Jefferson got caught up in something he had little or nothing to do with and then reacted without thinking or perhaps not really reacting at all. He just stood there, opened a bottle of booze and took a long drink and grabbed some money, which of course made him look guilty and made him part of the robbery. Never gave a thought to even getting the hell out of there.

Grant at least felt provoked over the bricklayers derisive comments over something they knew nothing about on any personal level. now maybe that was just an excuse to act out his personal anger and frustration over Jefferson.

Of course, if he had properly connected with one of those chairs, like as not, he'd be in the next cell from Jefferson waiting for his turn.

but, it is indeed a very bleak book. I find it interesting that so much of Grant is left blank for us to fill in as we see fit. why in the world he ever chose to come back remains a serious question, given his own feelings of emasculation and lack of power. Jefferson never knew anything else.


ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3717 comments Mod
Which bears the question, why hasn't Grant left Louisiana, though he says he wants nothing more than to get away? What is he trying to escape?


ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3717 comments Mod
Up to this point, and right now let's just focus on the first 1/3 of the book here.

What are your feelings about Grant's decision to stay. Is his feelings of emasculation more important than responding to a "call of duty" - if you will -to help with Jeffersons situation? As I recall (and I'm relying on memory from 21 years ago), it wasn't just Jefferson he was considering here but the many others like him that influenced his decision to stay. In which case, would the book or his decision be so bleak to you? What would you do?


message 31: by ColumbusReads (last edited Feb 09, 2014 02:45AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3717 comments Mod
Ok, just glancing through some of the chaps in this book and it's all kind of returning to me now. Forgive me for throwing all of this out at once. Just makes me realize how much I really love this book.

What did you make of the attorney's comment, "rather put a hog in the electric chair than such a mindless individual." For some reason that stood out to me.

Also, Grant as the first person narrator for the book. How would the aunt, Miss Emma or Jefferson narrating the story matter or alter the book in any way? Or, would it?


George | 759 comments well, of course the hog comment more or less sets up everything for the rest of the book and much of Jefferson's interactions with Grant and everyone else is his reaction to that comment. it makes it all but impossible for him to relate to other youmans. but it seems more or less the theme of how a large part of the white community relates to the black community except in an occasional personal level.

as for Grant's decision to stay, I'm not sure he could express it all that well, at least at the beginning of the story. he has no expectation of ever really accomplishing anything and his classroom demeanor isn't particularly exemplary. as a teacher, he is something of a leader by default, if not by example. So, perhaps simply because it's home. and of course his lady friend and her marriage with a child make it difficult for her to leave.


Aitziber | 15 comments Sorry, George, it appears I talked too far ahead of the discussion. Maybe we can pick up that conversation when we discuss the last third of the book. :)

As for Grant's decision to stay, I'm pretty sure I lack the context to make a good guess. Based on the book alone, I would say it's because he found, in California, that his parents didn't love him the way Tante Lou does. They abandoned him, they didn't raise him, and they didn't know him. For as much as his relationship with Lou is stormy, I believe they do love each other and are bonded to each other. Grant may not have had any kind of bonds in California, and for someone that is used to live in a community (like the quarter is, where everyone knows each other and depends on each other and helps each other), that might've been tough.

That's why I think Grant indeed means it when he says he'd move with Vivian. Their relationship is of two people, rather than a whole community. But Vivian does know Grant and knows where he's been. They share a bond.

Of course, this is all conjecture, based on the relationship Grant has with Lou, as Grant's reasons for returning to Louisiana are largely elided.


Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments George wrote: "well, of course the hog comment more or less sets up everything for the rest of the book and much of Jefferson's interactions with Grant and everyone else is his reaction to that comment. it makes ..."

The hog comment does set up the rest of the book and I have a hard time understanding why Jefferson is so ready to believe it.Let me rephrase that - I can intellectually understand it based on the history of black folks in the Jim Crow south, but it's hard for me to emotionally connect with that level of self-hatred. I was born in DC, but both of my parents were born in the south and I know that nothing could have convinced my southern relatives that they were less than human. I know that overcoming the feelings of hopelessness and dehumanization was one of the great triumphs of the civil rights movement, but it's hard for me to identify with.

The only reason that I can see for Grant returning is that, for reasons that we are not told, he feels that he owes his life to his aunt. He's been to college, he must have friends in other places, but he comes back to a job that he hates and feels is futile. There has to be a big reason to do that - we know that millions of others made a different choice. I think that his willingness to move with Vivian says that the strength of his feelings for her may be the only thing greater than his bond of debt to his aunt. I think that he doesn't feel that he can be a man worthy of Vivian if he stays where he is.


Michael | 432 comments Wow, so many questions to think about!

The "hog" monologue really horrified me, but I remember thinking this was a bit like using the insanity defense - you could use it to try to escape an unfair trial, but there is a price: it reinforces the idea (to the court, to the world) that you are less than human (or less than sane). I mean, wow, the public defender even used the shape of his skull as evidence, yikes. The same with calling him a "boy", which of course has its own legacy in the white oppression of Black men. And of course, if they decide you are guilty then not only have you lost but they still think that about you.

I've only read halfway, but I'm not convinced that Jefferson "believes" he is a hog. From what I know of depression, it seems believable to me that someone as beyond hope as Jefferson is would cling to a phrase like that and "make it their own" in an attempt to reclaim power when there was none to be had. The 12 white jurors, white judge, and white governor hold all the cards, and I thought Jefferson might be assuming the charade and lashing out at his family as a way to feel like he was in control of others' hatred of him, instead of the other way around. And of course, the alternative is to admit to the pain of what he is going through. I'm cheating by using a quote from the halfway point, but I found it really poignant when Grant described the strained grin Jefferson had plastered on his face: "I recognized his grin for what it was - the expression of the most heartrending pain I had ever seen on anyone's face."

Yes, bleak. Bleak, bleak, bleak. But I can't help but think that no other narrator would work as well as Grant. He is like Jefferson: he does not want to talk about the chair, he does not feel in control of his destiny, and he does not share his Aunt and Miss Emma's blind hope that a teacher can redeem Jefferson. Because of this, Grant, like Jefferson, is going into this situation with no illusions, and has no choice but to look honestly at whether or not there is anything worth celebrating at the end of life lived with no respect and no justice.


George | 759 comments well, if Jefferson really thought he was a hog, then the comment wouldn't have affected him, which it did, very deeply.

I think that Grant was chosen as the narrator as he's practically the only available black voice with an education so it's easier to speak through him to reach his readers. Plus of course, it becomes clear over time that Grant's reliance on his intellect isn't that much of an advantage in the local society and doesn't really work all that well as a coping mechanism. by itself, it's a weakness.


Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments George wrote: "well, if Jefferson really thought he was a hog, then the comment wouldn't have affected him, which it did, very deeply..."

But if he didn't, on some level, accept it, then his aunt's campaign to make him go to his death feeling like a man would have been pointless. Even though I'm sure that he knew that he was not a hog, his willingness to cave in to that characterization of himself was disturbing to me and very sad.


George | 759 comments Wilhelmina wrote: "George wrote: "well, if Jefferson really thought he was a hog, then the comment wouldn't have affected him, which it did, very deeply..."

But if he didn't, on some level, accept it, then his aunt'..."


I can't entirely disagree with that either. at the very least he didn't value himself much more than a hog, and nothing in his life up to that point gave him much reason to believe anyone else did either. so, yes he had some serious self-esteem issues and the truly sad and disturbing aspect to me is that this was constantly reinforced by practically everything around him. But his refusal at the most basic level to absolutely accept that assessment made his eventual transformation possible. perhaps it would be possible to say that he bottomed out at the trial with no where to go but up. he just wasn't inclined to go anywhere on his own. in reality, his actions at the store were pretty close to mindless, beyond stupid, as he should at least have reacted in self-preservation and left. His life is basically over after the trial, so it would be pretty hard to imagine changing at that point had any particular value. curling up into a ball to wait it out seems like a good a plan as any other.


Aitziber | 15 comments George wrote: "in reality, his actions at the store were pretty close to mindless, beyond stupid, as he should at least have reacted in self-preservation and left.."

I will be even more specific, and say Jefferson's actions at the store denote an inability to take control of his own life. Which combined with a lack of education, which would make him unable to recognize or articulate his feelings, would make him come across as an animal to people who already have it in them to dehumanize others.

I think reading Jefferson as depressed is spot on. He probably was depressed for a good part of his life, and didn't have a name for it (or access to therapy). Being depressed would make him, on some level, accept that characterization of himself. It would also make him unable (even unwilling) to accept and reciprocate Miss Emma's love.

Phew! It didn't even occur to me to see Jefferson as depressed as I was reading, even though I have a history of it myself. I am really glad I was able to read this book with the group. :)


ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3717 comments Mod
Some really good comments about the "hog" statement and if anyone else would like to comment and add to the discussion, please do so. I think you're right, this statement by the attorney was the impetus to everything that happened afterwards. It truly drove everything that happened afterwards.

What is your opinion of Vivian singularly and her relationship with Grant? How important or meaningful is she to what happens in the story and Grants decision to stay?


Michael | 432 comments Wilhelmina wrote: "Even though I'm sure that he knew that he was not a hog, his willingness to cave in to that characterization of himself was disturbing to me and very sad. "

I definitely agree. The depression angle helped me understand Jefferson, and I'm sure there must be books analyzing depression caused by racism, although I don't know them by name. Gaines' visceral descriptions of things like waiting for a white man for two and a half hours, and avoiding the disgusting bathroom in the basement of the courthouse, have made me quickly recognize my anger about it, for some reason. But I feel like I am only halfway there. I certainly don't know what it was like to be a Black man born in the South in the 20's, but "disturbing and very sad" seem like the tip of the iceberg.


message 42: by Michael (last edited Feb 11, 2014 07:26PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Michael | 432 comments Columbus wrote: "What is your opinion of Vivian singularly and her relationship with Grant? How important or meaningful is she to what happens in the story and Grants decision to stay?"

In the middle of the book, Grant talks about what a "hero" is, and I am not sure he would categorize Vivian that way, but I would. She seems like someone who does what needs to be done, holds her head up, and doesn't look for accolades for it. As far as her relationship with Grant goes, I think she sees something in Grant that he doesn't see in himself yet, for the most part, and I'm hoping he figures it out.

Grant says that Vivian is the reason he continues to see Jefferson, and is the reason for staying in Louisiana, so she seems pretty important. I think she is meaningful as an allegory for his conscience, since she isn't physically making him do any of these things. I also noticed that the times Grant needed to talk to Vivian, and later in the book how his "relationship" with Vivian was going, had a lot to do with his emotional state. So Vivian also becomes a way to gauge how his contact with Jefferson is affecting him emotionally.

I like Vivian a lot and I wonder if there are things people don't like about her, maybe something I am missing?


George | 759 comments Michael wrote: "Wilhelmina wrote: "Even though I'm sure that he knew that he was not a hog, his willingness to cave in to that characterization of himself was disturbing to me and very sad. "

I definitely agree. ..."


This isn't set in the 20s, it's the late 40s or early 50s. They talk about Jackie Robinson, who went into major league ball in 47. It feels like the 20s or earlier because nothing much changes in this rural area over time.


message 44: by Michael (last edited Feb 11, 2014 07:55PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Michael | 432 comments George wrote: "Michael wrote: "Wilhelmina wrote: "Even though I'm sure that he knew that he was not a hog, his willingness to cave in to that characterization of himself was disturbing to me and very sad. "

I de..."


Yes, good clarification - I was using birth year to put it in perspective because a 21- or 26-year-old in 1948-ish would have been born in the 20's. 40 years before my time, at any rate.


message 45: by Michael (last edited Feb 11, 2014 07:59PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Michael | 432 comments So in other words the formative messages they would have been getting as children and young adults about what it means to be Black would have been the messages of the 20/30/40's.


George | 759 comments more or less. although how much difference there would have been from the late 1800s for that matter is hard to say. it's a pretty timeless place in many aspects and many people are living in what was the old slave quarters, doing much the same work.


Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments Does anyone else think that Gaines writes his male characters with much more depth than his female characters? You have the older black women - strong, taciturn, in charge, holding down the fort. Then there's Vivian - beautiful, light skinned (of course), sensual, feminine, "quality" as the older ladies put it. The men are much more interesting to me. I've seen these women a few too many times.


Aitziber | 15 comments Wilhelmina wrote: "Does anyone else think that Gaines writes his male characters with much more depth than his female characters? You have the older black women - strong, taciturn, in charge, holding down the fort. T..."

I agree. Grant and Jefferson are well developed, as they should be since the novel is about their relationship. But Reverend Ambrose got to have a character-defining conversation with, and change the outlook of Grant. Even Paul experimented a change through the novel, although in fairness, it is a typical character arc for Paul's character archetype.

On the other hand, Miss Emma, Tante Lou, Vivian or Irene, don't get to speak for themselves. Ambrose speaks for Lou and Emma, and Grant speaks for Irene. Grant does have a couple good conversations with Vivian, but in this, he gets to express his feelings, the pressure put on him, and she acts as his conscience.

I didn't mind it, and I can't really speak for Gaines' entire body of work as I have only read Lesson. As I said before, I think masculinity (what makes a man, how to define yourself as a man/how to express it when you're so frequently humiliated, women's expectations on you, male friendship) and emasculation (powerlessness, impotence -quite literally-) are two major themes in this specific novel.


George | 759 comments You don't think Miss Jane Pittman makes up enough for that? However, yes, the women here are definitely in the supporting cast and fairly stock constructions at that. You'd think Miss Emma and the others would get more face time with the reader, but they don't. Of course, it would have been a much longer novel if they had gotten their due.


ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3717 comments Mod
Yes, I was just about to bring up the same thing, George. Not only Jane Pittman but Catherine Carmier and some of his other characters from past novels. Unlike some other renowned authors (who we've discussed in the past) and have been guilty of not only giving short shrift to female characters but writing woefully bad and insulting characters, I would certainly give Gaines a pass here. Not that the female characters here couldn't be more fully-fleshed out (because they could) - for this novel, maybe - but certainly not an indictment on Gaines for writing bad female roles.


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