Study Guide

A Lesson Before Dying Injustice

By Ernest J. Gaines

Injustice

Chapter 1

The judge told Jefferson that he had been found guilty of the charges brought against him, and that the judge saw no reason that he should not pay for the part he played in this horrible crime. (1.19)

This all sounds fair and good, right. If you commit a horrible crime you should pay the price. Except when you didn't commit the horrible crime, as in Jefferson's case, and you have no hope for appealing because the cards are so stacked against you.

There was absolutely no proof that there had been a conspiracy between himself and the other two. (1.11)

Even though there is no proof of Jefferson's guilt, the presumption of innocence doesn't seem to apply when a white man is murdered by a black man. Justice is uneven at best in this novel.

When the old man and the other two robbers were all dead, this one—it proved the kind of animal he really was—stuffed the money into his pockets and celebrated the event by drinking over their still-bleeding bodies. (1.10)

This portrayal of Jefferson's actions is totally unfair. The prosecutor has no evidence of any of the motivations that he's sprinkling into his little tale. But his twisted words also twist the jury's minds, and that leaves Jefferson in an unfair position.

Chapter 3
Miss Emma

"Tell him what I done done for this family, Mr. Henri. Tell him to ask his wife all I done done for this family over the years." (3.69)

Miss Emma decides to use the only influence she has with a powerful white family to try to help her godson. She reminds them of all of the years that she worked cooking and taking care of their house, and appeals to their sense of justice to get them to help her.

Chapter 8
Grant Wiggins

"But, Mr. Wiggins, now you was looking out that window too, now. I seen you." (8.7)

Injustice isn't just confined to the courthouse. Even Grant Wiggins himself, who is so bitter about the injustice he has experienced, is pretty unfair with his kids. He makes them stand in the corner for looking out the window and not doing their work when that is exactly what he does.

Chapter 20

But they can't take this one's life too soon after the recognition of His death, because it might upset the sensitive few. It can happen less than two weeks later, though, because even the sensitive few will have forgotten about their Savior's death by then. (20.69)

The fact that most of the population in Louisiana is Catholic affects the way that justice, or injustice, is carried out. It seems unfair to Grant to respect one group's beliefs but then ignore the rights of another group.

Twelve white men say a black man must die, and another white man sets the date and time without consulting one black person. Justice? (20.63)

This statement has some important and controversial implications. It seems to be saying that unless the people who decide cases are diverse, or at least racially represent the person being accused, justice will not be served. Do you think it's ever possible for people of one race to be just with those of another?

They sentence you to death because you were at the wrong place at the wrong time, with no proof that you had anything at all to do with the crime other than being there when it happened. Yet six months later they come and unlock your cage and tell you, We, us, white folks all, have decided it's time for you to die, because this is a convenient date and time. (20.67)

Grant is so frustrated by the extreme injustice of Jefferson's situation, because he is absolutely powerless against the system. He, Jefferson, Miss Emma, and the others have no hope of ever pointing out how unfair the whole situation is, because they are not privileged by the system.

Chapter 21

"So each time a male child is born, they hope he will be the one to change this vicious circle—which he never does. Because even though he wants to change it, and maybe even tries to change it, it is too heavy a burden because of all the others who have run away and left their burdens behind." (21.86)

In a way, it's unfair to ask one person to change and overcome all the generations of baggage he's born with, because why should he have to do all that work where no one else does? But that's what is being asked of Jefferson and Grant, and they are doing their best to fulfill the unfair expectations.

Chapter 28
Jefferson

"Me, Mr. Wiggins. Me. Me to take the cross. Your cross, nannan's cross, my own cross. Me, Mr. Wiggins. This old stumbling n*****. Y'all axe a lot, Mr. Wiggins." (28.86)

Jefferson has become a symbol, not just a person anymore, and that puts a lot of unfair pressure on him. He's just a kid who has been wrongly convicted of murder and will soon be executed for it. Why should that mean that he has to give hope to everyone he knows as well? It's unfair, just like any sacrifice, but he finds the strength to do it anyway.