Strength of Women Depicted in Thesis

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It is also important to note that Emma's actions affect more than Jefferson and Grant. Emma serves as a support for Tante Lou and she is the one that provides Grant with the compelling image of a hog when she declares that they want them to "kill a hog... I want a man to go to the chair" (Gaines 13). Emma is also significant because of her past. She has provided the Guidry's with years of service, which seems to be a motivating factor in Guidry's decision. Emma's influence cannot be overlooked because she is person that wants Grant to begin removing the racial oppression that has existed in the community.

In addition, Vivian's powerful influence over Grant also emerges in the novel as Grant tries to come to terms with what is happening. She tells Grant he should she Jefferson. She is also the one to force Grant to realize that he cannot run away from who he is. He often wishes to run away and throws the idea at her and she is constantly reminding him that he did that already and he came back. She reminds him that "this is all we have" (94) in reference to their lives and their future. Nancy Folks maintains that Vivian is important to Grant because she teaches him about "violence and manhood" (Folks 46). The barroom brawl "functions as a key scene representing the necessity to redefine masculinity" (46) and Vivian's point to Grant that this is how black men end up getting killed "underlines consequences for men who fight rather than walk away from potential violence" (46). Grant wants to impress Vivian but instead, he only disgusts her by his "failure to control his behavior" (47) and his "failure to think about the consequences of his fighting" (47). With Grant kneeling his head in Vivian's lap, Gaines is making Grant courageous and suggesting that he can learn from her and commit to her. Without Vivian, Grant might have left, leaving Jefferson and, essentially, the entire community, without a sense of pride.
Grant becomes a man in a Lesson Before Dying but he would have accomplished this without the strong women in his life. Tante Lou, Emma, and Vivian become catalysts for Grant in that he has literally nowhere to turn where he will not find one of them or hear one of their voices speaking to him with reason and urging him to do the right thing regardless of how difficult that might be. Nash writes, "In helping Jefferson, he does things that he was previously unwilling to do, things that he sees as worthwhile in order to help the condemned man. In the end, he is better prepared to continue the work he has often longed to flee" (Nash 358). This is an accurate statement about Grant and his task. These women work together to ensure that Grant and Jefferson learn the ultimate lesson of faith, dignity, and courage before dying. We can also say that the old adage might be true that behind every great man is a strong woman or two.

Works Cited

Gaines, Ernest. A Lesson Before Dying. New York: Vintage Contemporaries. 1993.

Harris, Trudier. Saints, Sinners, Saviors: Strong Black Women in African-American Literature. New York: Macmillan. 2001.

Folks, Nancy. The World is Our Home. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. 2000.

Nash, William R. '"You Think a Man Can't Kneel and….....

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