Friday, February 19, 2010

Sophomores: The Big Read

This is the novel we are currently readying in Senor Leh's English classes. "A Lesson Before Dying" is a story of two African-American men trying to attain their manhood in a deeply prejudiced community. Jefferson, a young man with a poor education, witnesses a fatal shooting between a white store owner and two other young black men. He is convicted of the murder of the three men and sentenced to death. During his trial, Jefferson’s defense attorney calls him a “hog,” claiming he is less than human and therefore should not be killed. Jefferson’s distraught godmother, Miss Emma, asks Grant Wiggins, the local school teacher, to “make Jefferson a man” before he dies. Over the course of the novel, Grant must find the dauntlessness within himself to face many diverse situations: a hateful white society; an indigent black community with high hopes; a pained young man convicted of murder and slated for execution; and his own reluctant feelings to shoulder the many burdens of the African-American community.

The novel has a long history of championing social justice. Fiction has the signal ability to embody social ideas in a compelling narrative that possesses both emotional and intellectual power. Ernest J. Gaines's
A Lesson Before Dying offers a painful yet inspirational tale of institutional injustice and personal redemption. It addresses the biggest theme possible-how one affirms life in the face of death. The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to revitalize the role of literary reading in American popular culture. Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America, a 2004 NEA report, identified a critical decline in reading for pleasure among American adults. The Big Read addresses this issue by bringing communities together to read, discuss, and celebrate books and writers from American and world literature. A great book combines enlightenment with enchantment. It awakens our imagination and enlarges our humanity. It can even offer harrowing insights that somehow console and comfort us.

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