A Lesson Before Dying

by: Ernest J. Gaines

Sheriff Sam Guidry

Characters Sheriff Sam Guidry

Guidry is both an archetypal white authoritarian and a decent man. Guidry voices the ignorance, hypocrisy, inertia, and racism of the people in power in the South of the 1940s. As town sheriff, Guidry has plenty of power to wield. He resents any trespasses on his sphere of influence, and he wants to maintain the status quo in his courthouse and in his society. He believes that Jefferson should be left to die in happy, animalistic ignorance. Still, as soon as Jefferson and Grant begin to transcend the roles that Guidry and other powerful whites assign for them—as soon as they cease playing the humble schoolteacher and the angry, stupid criminal—Guidry seems to sense the fragility of his position. His worldview depends upon blacks conforming to these stereotypes; when they refuse to conform, Guidry becomes unsure of his footing. Although Guidry does not repent and change, he does show signs of increasing sensitivity. His harsh exterior begins to crack and reveal a kindly, anxious streak. By the end of the novel, he treats Jefferson with something approaching respect.