A Lesson Before Dying

In Chapter 8, what are Grant's thoughts about his students?

chapter 8

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This section deals extensively with the causes of poverty and violence in black communities. The underlying question is whether African-Americans in this place and time hold personal responsibility for their miserable situation, or if they are the victims of a corrupt system. Grant seems to believe that there is some truth to both explanations.

The systemic causes of the social malaise in the quarter make themselves brutally apparent in this chapter. Gaines emphasizes the small and large indignities that African-Americans suffer due to segregation, from used textbooks to being beaten and murdered by white people. Other problems are clearly but indirectly related to racism. Because of the shoddy quality of schools (and more directly, Jim Crow laws), most of the black people in the quarter can only make money by picking pecans. Many of Grant’s students come from families that cannot even afford toothbrushes, something that the superintendent interprets as a sign of laziness rather than a consequence of systemic inequality. He then uses this as evidence to justify his own racist views.

In some cases, Grant tries to rebel against this status quo, attempting to call the textbook problem to the superintendent’s attention. At others, he accepts that there is nothing he can do about racism, and he does not complain when he is made to use the disgusting outhouse at the prison instead of the clean bathrooms reserved for white people.