A dynamic character is one who grows and changes during the course of a novel, and in Ernest Gaines’ novel A Lesson Before Dying, Jefferson is a perfect example of a dynamic character. Through the course of the novel, Jefferson grows from thinking of himself as no better than a hog, and even acting like a hog, into a man who is able to bravely walk to his own death. The first time Jefferson is introduced is during his own trial in the very first chapter. However, it is after the trial when Jefferson begins his journey as a dynamic character. When Grant first sees Jefferson at the jail, Jefferson is naught but an empty shell. He is distant and pays little attention to Grant, Miss Emma, or any of his visitors. Even his vague attempts at acknowledging them are empty and meaningless, as can be seen from this quote: “He looked at her as though he did not know who she was, or what she was doing there.” (73) Throughout the first few visits, Jefferson is quiet and moody. He says only a few words to his visitors, none of which are positive in the slightest. “It don’t matter… Chicken, dirt, it don’t matter.” (73) These are just a couple of Jefferson’s sparse comments during the first few visits. His other few comments have to do with the electric chair. At this stage of the novel, Jefferson is merely wallowing in self-pity, and he doesn’t spare a single thought for anyone else. After each visit, Miss Emma is increasingly unwell due to the fact that Jefferson, a man once filled with life, is an empty shell who barely even responds when spoken to. Because of the trial, Jefferson is resigned to the fact that he’s going to die, and that there’s nothing he can do about it, so he will do nothing. However, Jefferson does not remain at this despondent point forever. The first major turning point on his path of growth occurs when Grant first visits Jefferson alone. During the 2nd third of the novel, Jefferson becomes much more vocal. However, this change can be viewed as good or bad. The reason for this is because, though Jefferson does indeed talk more, he talks about how he is nothing but a hog. On top of this, Jefferson even acts like a hog, as can be seen from this quote: “I’m go’n show you how a hold hog eat… He knelt down on the floor and put his head inside the bag and started eating, without using his hands. He even sounded like a hog.” (83) This act is absolutely horrifying. It is terrible to see that he has become the hog that all the racist people of the community believe him to be. However, at the same time, this conversation is good; Jefferson is talking about what has him so aggravated. Though it may not be in a very positive way, at least he is talking and at least partially opening up to Grant. However, by the same token, it seems that Jefferson has sunk to his lowest point. Now Jefferson thinks of himself as just a hog. On top of this, he does not care for Grant and only seeks to irritate him. When Grant tries to aid Jefferson, he responds with, “Just keep on vexing me… See what I won’t say. Just keep on vexing me… bet you I’ll scream.” (129) Jefferson even goes as far as to insult Vivian, the person Grant cares about most in the world. At this stage of the novel, Jefferson has progressed from someone who is entirely quiet, empty and moody, to someone who is still rather moody, but also is bitter and angry, and thinks of himself as no more than a dumb old hog. Whether or not this is positive or negative growth is not certain, but it is definitely a change from how he was at the beginning of the novel. The final third, however, is where Jefferson makes the most dramatic change that is most certainly for the better, and truly proves that he is a dynamic character.
The hero speech Grant gives to Jefferson is the major turning point for Jefferson. Suddenly, it seems as if Jefferson has seen the light. He understands what Grant has been trying to teach him. He understands the need to be selfless, and he understands that he is a human. “Yes, I’m youman, Mr. Wiggins. But nobody didn’t know that ‘fore now. Cuss for nothing. Beat for nothing. Work for nothing. Grinned to get by. Everybody thought that’s how it was s’pose to be.” (224) Jefferson is no longer acting like a hog, and he is no longer silently moping about. By now, Jefferson has grown and matured into a man, and not the hog that everyone thinks he is. The relationship between Grant and Jefferson has also changed dramatically by the final third of the novel. The two now get along and care for one another, as can be seen this entry from Jefferson’s diary, “sometime mr wigin i just feel like telling you i like you but i dont kno how to say this cause i aint never said it to nobody before an nobody aint never say it to me.” (228) From this touching quote, it is clearly seen that Jefferson cares about Grant, a significant change from his behavior in previous areas of the book. In this final third of the book, Jefferson has grown immensely from the person he once was. Now he is no longer a hog. Now he is ready to face his death on the electric chair not like a hog, but like a man.
Jefferson’s progress throughout A Lesson Before Dying is truly remarkable. He goes from a quiet, moody, and empty person, to a man who thinks he is a hog, and then he finally blossoming as a bold man who is ready to face his death. This is a true example of a dynamic character, as Jefferson clearly grows and changes through the course of the novel. His progression from beginning to end is magnificent and impressive, and at the end of the novel Jefferson has shown he is a dynamic character and that, as such, he has grown and matured as a character.