A Lesson Before Dying Essay

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In Ernest J. Gaines novel A Lesson Before Dying, a young African-American, Jefferson, is caught in the middle of a liquor shootout, and as the only survivor is convicted of murder and sentenced to death. During Jefferson’s trial, his attorney calls him a hog in an effort to persuade the jury that he could not have possibly planned a crime like this. Having heard this, Jefferson’s godmother, Miss Emma, calls on the local school teacher, Grant Wiggins, to visit Jefferson in prison and help prove to the community, more importantly the white people, that Jefferson is indeed a man, not a hog. Throughout the book, Grant often contemplates why he is helping Miss Emma; he debates within himself whether he should stay and help Miss Emma and…show more content…
Despite this, Grant unwillingly agrees to help and begins visiting Jefferson in prison. After several visits and no progress, one night Grant talks with Vivian and expresses to her that he is wasting his time and that they should escape this town together. However, nearing the end of the book, upon buying Jefferson a radio, Grant realizes that he has been too focused on what he wants, and decides that contrary to what he believes he can help Jefferson, and the town he lives in (Gaines 180). Because Grant has two equally compelling desires, although not compelling in the same way, to choose between, the choice he does make is magnified because of the conflict within himself. This conflict not only helps reflect on Grant’s development as a character, but even more stresses the books theme of assuming responsibility. Through Grant’s actions it is easy to see he is not comfortable with his life. He lives in a small, racially discriminated and prejudiced town, and is a college educated man treated like a man who hasn’t finished elementary school. Adding Jefferson’s situation on top of all that, it is easy to see how Grant desires to simply give up and run away with the love of his life, Vivian. But Grant realizes that the issues at hand are bigger than just him; the way Jefferson dies will have a lasting impact, much like Christ’s crucifixion, on the local community. He understands that the dignity Jefferson shows in
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