Written By Ernest J. Gaines
Essay By Alli Francis
Lessons are told so others can see the significance of a story or event. They are learned through instruction and support from others and by personal experience. Several characters in Ernest Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying experienced this, particularly Jefferson and Grant. Both men were able to learn from each other and in the end made each other better and more mature people.
Grant Wiggins, the narrator, is the son of cane-cutters on a plantation in the Deep South. Unlike those before him, Grant is the school teacher on the plantation and has attended college not only to become educated, but to escape the heavy prejudice and racism against blacks. This negative environment has made him bitter and have little faith in himself, society, or the church. He does not believe anything will ever change and feels he can not help others or make a difference in their lives. Meanwhile, Jefferson, a sensitive, black man of below-average intelligence, takes it to heart when his lawyer says he is not smart enough to commit murder and calls him a hog. He becomes morose and remote as he sits in a cell of dark times and feelings awaiting his death by electric chair. Jefferson also begins to mentally and physically live the lifestyle of a hog.
"I don't want them to kill no hog, I want a man to go to that chair, on his own two feet," says Miss Emma, Jefferson's Godmother. (pg. 13). Grant unwillingly goes to see Jefferson in the courthouse jail at his family's request to help Jefferson become a man before he is killed. In the cell he finds a non-verbal Jefferson who has messy hair, forgotten all hygiene, and eats off the floor. He acts like the animal he believes he is. Through out the novel, Gant begins to feel compelled and drawn to the pathetic, hog-like individual in the cell and sincerely wants to help him. At first, there is little communication, but after the two begin to finally talk, a...