Dignity and Sacrifice Depicted in Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying

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In Ernest J. Gaines novel A Lesson Before Dying, a young African-American man named 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, the defense attorney had called him an uneducated hog as an effort to have him released, but the jury ignored this and sentenced him to death by electrocution anyways. Appalled by this, Jefferson’s godmother, Miss Emma, asks the sheriff if visitations by her and the local school teacher, Grant Wiggins, would be possible to help Jefferson become a man before he dies. The sheriff agrees, and Miss Emma and Mr. Wiggins begin visiting Jefferson in his jail cell. Throughout the book, Jefferson has two …show more content…
However, Jefferson having recently heard the news of his execution is reluctant to speak, or even acknowledge their presence. Hearing that he will be executed puts Jefferson in a state of depression and distrust. He feels both sad and angered because he is being punished for someone else’s wrong doing, and with this attitude tries to make any and all of his visitors feel guilty for his imprisonment and future execution. Grant Wiggins, knowing that Jefferson’s execution will have a lasting effect on the local African-American community, asks Jefferson to die as a dignified man to falsify the stereotype given by whites that African-Americans are nothing but animals. Jefferson, finally beginning how his choices will have an effect on his loved ones and friends, reacts by putting his face down in tears and accepts Grant’s request (Gaines 191). At this point in the point, the conflict within Jefferson highlights how the book encourages making difficult, yet virtuous decisions for the sake of others. Agreeing to Grant’s request is the first sign of progress in Jefferson. On the same day that Grant asked him to die as a man, Grant gave him a notebook and pencil to write any questions or feelings he would like to discuss with Grant during the next visit (Gaines 190). Although Grant may not know it, the notebook and pencil give Jefferson the opportunity to bond with…