Full Glossary for A Lesson Before Dying
bloodweed another name for the blood lily (native to Africa), a deep red plant of the amaryllis family.
a bowl of cush-cush a type of cereal; often spelled couscous, a kind of semolina.
Clabber thickly curdled sour milk.
crackling the browned, crisp rind of roast pork; the crisp part remaining after hog fat or poultry has been rendered.
Creole a person of black and French or Spanish lineage that formed the elite backbone of early New Orleans society. From the French "creole," meaning native to the region, or born at home.
crockersacks bags made of coarse material, such as burlap.
derrick a large apparatus for lifting and moving heavy objects.
The driver drove slowly to keep down the dust. Here, dust symbolizes death.
Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and Booker T. Washington men associated with the struggle for civil rights and black liberation. Douglass (1817-95), a former slave (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey), became a famous orator who spoke out against the horrors of slavery; Lincoln (1809-65) signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves, although he admitted doing so not primarily because he believed that slavery was morally wrong but because he sought to preserve the Union; Washington (1856-1915) is best known for his conservative, conciliatory views concerning the role of blacks in America.
Free LaCove Vivian's hometown, inhabited mostly by Creoles and light-skinned blacks.
gumbo a thick, hearty stew made with a variety of ingredients, such as meat, vegetables, and fish.
Hitler had his reasons Antoine's remark exemplifies the extreme alienation of blacks in Southern white America.
I am a slave. Grant realizes that he is still mentally enslaved. Even though he is physically free, he has not acted responsibly. When he is finally able to cry, we realize that he has gained his freedom through Jefferson's death (Jefferson's death is Grant's redemption and deliverance). We also realize that he has learned the lesson Rev. Ambrose has been trying to teach him: A man can stand and kneel at the same time.
I need you speak for me. Miss Emma's remark reflects the unwritten "code of silence" during the pre-Civil Rights South, when blacks were routinely denied the right to articulate their thoughts and feelings. This statement further reflects on the power of language as a recurring theme. Note the irony here, as Miss Emma seems to have no problem speaking for herself.
I tried to decide just how I should respond to them. Whether I should act like the teacher that I was, or like the nigger that I was supposed to be. As revealed in a subsequent chapter, Grant's bitter remark echoes one of the "lessons" he learned from his teacher while he was a student at the plantation school.
It don't matter. Jefferson's words echo those of Matthew Antoine in Chapter 8.
Jackie Robinson (1919-72) United States Major League Baseball player. In 1947, Robinson became the first African American to play in the major leagues when he signed a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was also the first black to win the Most Valuable Player award, the first to play in a major league World Series, and the first to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. For many blacks, Jackie Robinson symbolized a triumph in the fight for racial integration.
Joe Louis (1914-81) United States professional boxer. Nicknamed "The Brown Bomber," Joe Louis, world heavyweight boxing champion from 1937-49, still holds the record for the longest reign as heavyweight champion: 11 years, 8 months, and 7 days.
Keats, Byron, Scott John Keats, George Gordon Byron, and Sir Walter Scott are nineteenth-century Romantic poets. The attorney implies that since Jefferson lacks a formal Eurocentric education, he is not a "civilized" human being. This blatantly racist argument fails to note that blacks had been legally denied the right to learn to read and write, often upon threat of death or disfigurement, and that even now they were denied the textbooks and other resources that could enable them to study Western classics. Later in the book, we see the school superintendent suggest that students earn money to buy toothbrushes — not books.
Mardi Gras an annual festival renowned for its lavish costumes and decadent party atmosphere, held on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras (French for "fat Tuesday") is also called Shrove Tuesday. Traditionally a celebration of feasting before the beginning of Lent, it has now become secularized.
parish the largest local administrative district in Louisiana. A parish is the equivalent of a county in other states.
Parnell Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-91), Irish nationalist leader.
a patch of white lilies White lilies, also known as Easter lilies, are generally associated with the resurrection of Christ.
plarines a mispronunciation of "pralines," a type of candy made of pecans, brown sugar, and maple syrup.
the quarter rows of cabins associated with designated plantations, isolated from the larger world. The quarter served as a home for slaves in the nineteenth century and the homes of sharecroppers in the twentieth century. The cabins had no electricity or running water until after World War II.
ragball a game in which a ball of rags takes the place of a real ball. Reference to the game underscores the crushing poverty of the black community.
Roast Nyers Roasting Ears (Of Corn).
Schmeling Max Schmeling, German boxer who defeated Joe Louis in 1936. In 1938, Louis regained his heavyweight title, defeating Schmeling in the first round of their fight.
sharecroppers people who worked land for a share of the crops, especially tenant farmers. In the South, black sharecroppers generally lived in extreme poverty and were treated as little more than slaves by white landowners.
A swarm of black birds flew across the road. Birds are a common symbol for the soul. Grant's sighting the black birds moments before he and Vivian pass the cemetery suggests that the birds are the souls of his ancestors.
Their forefathers said that we're only three-fifths human. Grant's comment refers to the "three-fifths compromise" in the United States Constitution. According to this compromise, designed to placate both the North and the South, it was agreed to determine representatives and direct taxes "by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons." Although the Constitution does not mention the word "slavery," by this provision three slaves were counted for every five non-slaves (whites) in apportioning representation.
We must live with our own conscience. The remark illustrates the irony of the situation: Southern whites often had no conscience concerning the fate of blacks, as illustrated by the defense attorney's argument.
Xavier University a university located in New Orleans and named for Saint Francis Xavier (1506-52), a Spanish Jesuit missionary. Xavier University is a historically black and Catholic affiliated university.
Yeats, O'Casey, Joyce William Butler Yeats, Sean O'Casey, and James Joyce, Irish playwrights and poets.
You think a man can't kneel and stand? Rev. Ambrose's question takes on added significance if we recall Miss Emma's remark to Henri Pichot in Chapter 3: "I'll be on my knees next time you see me, Mr. Henri." Sustained by her faith, her courage, and her fierce love for Jefferson, Miss Emma is able to "kneel and stand." Grant has yet to learn this lesson: There is dignity and value in service and humility when there is dignity and value in the person who exhibits them and the cause that calls them forth.