A Lesson for Living: For Louisiana Writer Ernest Gaines, Home Is the Place Where You're Torn between the Difficulty of Leaving and the Terror of Staying

By Brown, Dale | Sojourners Magazine, September-October 2002 | Go to article overview

A Lesson for Living: For Louisiana Writer Ernest Gaines, Home Is the Place Where You're Torn between the Difficulty of Leaving and the Terror of Staying


Brown, Dale, Sojourners Magazine


Before Alex Haley's Roots became a mini-series phenomenon, Ernest J. Gaines' The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman paved the way. In the 1974 TV movie, Cicely Tyson starred as Miss Jane, the 110-year-old African-American woman in Louisiana who recalls her life as a slave, her role in the Civil War, and her views on the civil rights movement. It is safe to say that no other fictional character had as much influence on the American freedom struggle as Miss Jane Pittman. Her story has been read in American literature classes around the world. And Chicago's Derrick Carter, the master mixer of cutting edge house music, leads his newest CD About Now with a spoken word track taken from this Gaines classic.

Since 1956, Ernest Gaines has written eight books of fiction, including In My Father's House, A Gathering of Old Men, and A Lesson Before Dying. Four of his works have been made into films. His contemporaries count him as one of the great Southern writers. Currently, Gaines is writer-in-residence at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette.

Gaines was interviewed this spring in Columbus, Ohio, by Dale Brown, a professor in the English department and director of the biennial Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Brown's most recent book is Of Fiction and Faith: Twelve American Welters Talk About Their Vision and Work (Eerdmans).--The Editors

Dale Brown: This all started for you on the plantation in Louisiana where you wrote letters for neighbors and old people. And your first performances were in church?

Ernest J. Gaines: I tried to put on a little play. I had to be producer, director, and actor, I even had to pull the curtain. I think I was 13 or 14.

Gaines: That was the day that the people would get up and sing and the meeting would be about three hours. They would sing and tell their plans for heaven. Each person had his own particular song. You could identify people by their songs. If you were not in the church even from a distance you could tell who was testifying. I was baptized as a Baptist, baptized in the same river that I write about, the same river where we'd fish and wash our clothes. We washed our souls in that same river. White folks were baptized there too. We were all baptized there, because we all lived on that same plantation. But my stepfather was Catholic, and I went to little Catholic schools during my last three years in Louisiana.

Brown: Do you feel indebtedness to this religious background?

Gaines: Certainly there is ambivalence, but I would not be the person I am today if I had not had that background. The old people had such strong beliefs and they tried to guide me.

Brown: You have many endearing characters in your stories, usually the older women who live in the stream of faith. The ministers and the professionals, however, are often treated with considerable satire.

Gaines: I was educated in the 1950s in San Francisco, and I was reading books like Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev, and Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, and James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Those books began to make me aware of myself and what was really going on. I began to ask myself about these folks who claim to be Christians. I'm not talking about the old people on the plantation; their faith was real enough. But those folks on television and those who fought against anti-lynching laws made me question the whole business.

Brown: Your books also speak powerfully to the issue of displacement. Each of your books, in one way or another, notes the difficulty of leaving and the terror of staying. So many characters get caught between two worlds.

Gaines: I was finally able to come back to Louisiana when I was 50--18 years after I'd left it. All kinds of things kept pulling me back, all my stories went back there to the plantation, but I couldn't have accepted conditions in the South. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

A Lesson for Living: For Louisiana Writer Ernest Gaines, Home Is the Place Where You're Torn between the Difficulty of Leaving and the Terror of Staying
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.