First Portfolio: A Lesson Before Dying short responses
Below are ten quoted passages from A Lesson Before Dying. Choose up to seven of these quotes
and discuss what they reveal about any or all of these concepts: themes, symbols, motifs,
character conflict, and plot. You don’t need to touch on all five aspects in each response, but you
should discuss all of them in the course of your exploration.
Responses will vary in length; total word count should be about 1200 words.
1. “I was not there, yet I was there.” [p. 3: the first sentence of the novel]
2. “Living and teaching on a plantation, you got to know the occupants of every house, and
you knew who was home and who was not…. I could look at the smoke rising from each
chimney or I could look at the rusted tin roof of each house, and I could tell the lives that
went on in each one of them.” [pp. 37-38]
3. “Everything you sent me to school for, you’re stripping me of it,’ I told my aunt…. `The
humiliation I had to go through, going into that man’s kitchen…. Now going up to that
jail…. Anything to humiliate me. All the things you wanted me to escape by going to
school. Years ago, Professor Antoine told me that if I stayed here, they were going to
break me down to the nigger I was born to be. But he didn’t tell me that my aunt would
help them do it.'” [p. 79]
4. “I had gone to bars, to barbershops; I had stood on street corners, and I had gone to many
suppers there in the quarter. But I had never really listened to what was being said. Then I
began to listen, to listen closely to how they talked about their heroes, how they talked
about the dead and about how great the dead had once been. I heard it everywhere.” [p.
5. “All the furniture in the room was old. Faded overstuffed chairs; an old overstuffed love
seat; an overstuffed couch; and a rattan rocker with a pillow. The lamp tables were old,
and the lamps and lamp shades looked just as old.” [p. 155: referring to the furniture in
the big house]
6. “We black men…stay here in the South and are broken, or we run away and leave them
alone to look after the children and themselves. 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…. I can give
them something that neither a husband, a father, nor a grandfather ever did, so they want
to hold on as long as they can. Not realizing that their holding on will break me too.” [pp.
7. “Me, Mr. Wiggins. Me. Me to take the cross. Your cross, nannan’s cross, my own cross.
Me, Mr. Wiggins. This old stumbling nigger. Y’all axe a lot, Mr. Wiggins.” [p. 224]
8. “i kno you paul an i kno ole clark and i kno you too shef guirty and you mr picho and mr
mogan an all the rest of yall i jus never say non of this befor but i know yall everlas one
of yall” [p. 230]
9. “Yet they must believe. They must believe, if only to free the mind, if not the body. Only
when the mind is free has the body a chance to be free.” [p. 251: Grant]
10. “You the teacher.” [Reverend Ambrose, to Grant, on numerous occasions]
**This paper has already been started by me. Feel free to work off and/or edit/revise what I have written thus far.**
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