Ernest J Gaines in A Lesson before Dying, presents the idea of manhood, through a drama where a convict is able to realize his own dream and identity with the help of his teacher Grant who is the protagonist of this novel. This is particularly presented in the most important twenty-ninth chapter, where the language becomes more colloquial and especially where the masculinity of the protagonist is questioned. Where the dying words of a white shop keeper refer to Jefferson as “boy”, here Gaines contends that black men are not just fighting for their social recognition, but they are also struggling to be recognized as men instead of boys:
In reading so much about why young black men are in prison today, so many are fighting over their manhood in the black community … So much of it is our psyche: “I’ve got to be a man, I’ve got to be a man, I’ve got to be a man.” And of course, our mothers, when we’re born, it’s “my little man.” And we want him to be a better person than his father. “You’re the man. You’re the man. You’re the man of the house.” (Brown 23)
Gaines is brutal in his contention that black men are insignificant and this feeling is magnified when an entire system condemns him, as he is unable to speak for himself. He is not allowed to speak when he has been convicted.
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