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The Right to Be Free

In the novel A Lesson Before Dying, although Grant is an educated black man in the era of a racist society he has struggles greater than most men of his decent. I feel sorry for him because of his limitations, even though I view him as a coward. He cannot break free of his background and family. The three main female characters in the novel, Tante Lou, Miss Emma, and Vivian, restrict and limit Grant’s choices. Grant realizes that freedom means leaving his small town and creating a new life, yet each woman holds a chain that keeps him from his destiny and the right to be free.

First, Tante Lou, his aunt holds Grant from his dreams by refusing to let him go his own way. Tante Lou wants Grant to stay at home with her and take care of her. But, in the time the novel takes place, it wasn’t common for young men stay with their elders and help out, especially when Grant has a college degree and can accomplish so much. Tante Lou took advantage of this in any means necessary, using the fact that Grant is family and in essence owes it to her to stay and help out. We can see this on page 14 when Tante Lou forces Grant to talk to Mr. Henri about seeing Jefferson. “You are going up there with us Grant, or you will not sleep in this house tonight.” Tante Lou denies

Knodt 2

Grant choices that men his age have.

Next, Miss Emma, who doesn’t have a family relation to Grant, also restricts his choices in life. Miss Emma plays an important role in the novel by being Jefferson’s godmother, and in a painstaking situation. She asks Grant in a way that gives him no real choices to teach Jefferson to be a man. Leaning on her ability to persuade, and using her power as an extensive friend to Tante Lou she can basically tell Grant what to do and gets away with it. She knew Grant did not want to go and teach Jefferson, but still went ahead with it. “Driving along the St. Charles River I could feel Emma not looking at me, not looking at anything..just thinking. Like my Aunt she knew how much I hated all of this.”(p.68) Miss Emma therefore forces Grant to do matters that she wants, not what Grant thinks he is capable of doing.

Thirdly, Vivian, the love of his life, is also limiting Grant’s ability to make decisions based strictly on his own intent. She understands Grant’s need to leave and see new things, but has restrictions in her life that will not allow her to help Grant begin a new existence. Vivian is in the middle of a drawn out divorce and needs to see it through so she can maintain custody of her children. We see an example of this on page 93. “Let’s go somewhere and spend the night. Baton Rouge, New Orleans- anywhere, Grant asks. I can’t, My Babies.” This sentence alone describes the turmoil she is going through with her own threatening aspects and how it effects Grant’s choices.

I think the book is an intriguing novel and surfaced important issues dealt with in society. Religion, racism, and many other articles of today are just a few. But, Grant is a complex character and can be depicted thoroughly. His education holds him to a new


standard not expected of people back then, but withholds him from reaching his dreams. He cannot find what he is looking for in this small town that A Lesson Before Dying takes place in. I feel sorry for him until Jefferson teaches him other factors involved to being a real and distinct kind of man. He evolves dramatically. But, his need to be free is still restrained by Tante Lou, Miss Emma, and Vivian in different, yet important ways.

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