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Grant, Hero of A Lesson Before Dying Essay

How we act or react in difficult situations defines our persona. Sometimes these situations provide opportunities to be a hero. After reading Grant Wiggins’s own definition of a hero, it is apparent that Grant becomes a hero. Grant states, “A hero is someone who does something for other people. He does something that other men don’t and cant to. He is different from other men. He is above other men. No matter who those other men are, the hero, no matter who he is, is above them.” Grant becomes a hero by earning an education to become a teacher, undergoing psychological changes, and counseling Jefferson to die with dignity.

A hero is different from others and does something others cannot. Grant’s drive to defy stereo type, become a teacher, and contribute to the community demonstrates that he is a hero. Grant is an African American son of cane-cutters who worked on a Louisiana plantation. He grew up working a labor job and was expected by society to continue as a laborer. Through determination he was able to escape his surroundings to earn a college education. He returns as an educated university man hoping to make a positive impact on society, but is still looked down upon.

College gave him a new perspective and educated way of speaking and thinking, but he was still not equal to the whites. Grant continued to persevere through segregation and unfair treatment. He maintained his goal of making a difference by teaching in a church without desks or other supplies. Grants ability to escape his environment and stereotyping, earn an education, and return to his community to make changes, makes him different from others in his community. Grant was different from others and taught in conditions that most could not. Grant is a hero.

Grant proved himself a hero, not only by overcoming struggles with racism, but with overcoming struggles within his own mind. A hero is above all other men. Many times a change must take place for man to become a hero above all other men. Throughout the novel, Grant undergoes psychological changes that allow him to become a hero. Grant’s life is filled with rage for the way he is treated by whites. Eventually this rage becomes self-loathing and cynicism, because he feels he is taking the unjust treatment from whites lying down. This downward spiral causes him to alienate himself from people he loves and feel that the community is helpless. During a conversation with Vivian, Grant says, he cannot face Jefferson because he cannot face himself and his own life. Vivian helps Grant realize that he has left the South in the past, has returned, and still has not left.

This helps him realize that he is there for a reason. Another change happens when he accepts the task of helping Jefferson. At first Grant is angry and believes that Miss Emma wants him to perform a difficult and maybe impossible task of convincing Jefferson to die with defiance and character. After accepting this task and dealings with Jefferson, Grant realizes what a hero is and he can have an impact on the community. Finally when Grant breaks down in front of his students he realizes that he is ready to connect with the children that he has been so strict with. Many heroes have to overcome an inner struggle to realize their potential for greatness. Eventually through his interactions with his family, Vivian, Jefferson, and students he realizes to view everyone positively which gives him the strength and courage to make an impact in his community.

Grant’s actions with Jefferson embody the heroic effort of doing something for someone else. Jefferson is thought of as an animal, and even compared to a “hog”. Grant wants Jefferson to believe that he is more than convict and just a black man. Grant wants Jefferson to believe that he can change society. Grant visits Jefferson regularly, councils him, gives him a radio, and hope. Before Jefferson’s death, Grant confides in him and says, “My faith is in you, Jefferson.” Through his efforts and faith, Jefferson completes his transformation into a dignified human being.

Grant’s perspectives change throughout the novel as a result of his interactions with his family, Vivian, Jefferson, and his students. When given the opportunity to be a hero, he accepts and becomes a hero. His escaping his environment and stereotyping to become a teacher, overcoming psychological struggles, and helping Jefferson die with dignity proves that he is a hero in the novel.


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