Analysis "A Lesson Before Dying" by Ernest J. Gaines

Categories: A Lesson Before Dying

Maya Angelou once said, ‘If you don’t like something change it.’ In everyone’s lives they have to make a series of many choices that change their path. In the book A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines, many of the characters are upset with the racial discrimination in their town and they hope that a young black man, Jefferson, can be strong and change the sterotypes. Grant Wiggins is a black teacher in the quarter and was chosen by Miss Emma to help Jefferson believe that he is a man before his execution.

In the novel A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines, Grant’s choice to help and talk to Jefferson is important because he was the main influence in Jefferson’s change to die a strong man which altered the mindset of others in the town.

There are many connections between Grant’s choice and the other characters, or events in the novel. At the beginning of the novel, Grant made the decision to talk to Jefferson in attempts of helping him die as ‘a man’ by convincing him he is not a hog.

Grant at first does this for Vivian and Miss Emma, because he does not believe he can help Jefferson. However, his intentions change as Jefferson starts to show progress and Grant realizes he is not only helping Jefferson, as well as the community, but himself. One day when Grant visits Jefferson at the jail he explains his definition of a hero, ‘A hero does for others.

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He would do anything for the people he loves, because he knows it would make their lives better. I am not that kind of person, but I want you to be. They expect it from me, but not from you. The white people out there say you don’t have it— that you’re a hog not a man. But I know they are wrong.’ (Gaines, 191).

Grant defines a hero as someone who does things for people they care about to make their lives better. He believes that Jefferson could be a hero for the black people in the town of Bayonne. Grant knows that the white people think lowly of black prisoners like Jefferson, and that is why Jefferson could change everyone’s opinions. Jefferson could be a hero by staying strong, walking up to his electric chair, and showing the town that he is a man that is not afraid. Another example is after the electrocution when Deputy Paul comes to visit Grant at the schoolhouse. Paul tells Grant, ‘He was the strongest man in that crowded room When Vincent asked if he had any last words, he looked at the preacher and said. Tell Nanan I walked’.’ (Gaines, 253-254). He then went on to say to Grant, ‘You are one great teacher Grant Wiggins I saw the transformation.’ These quotes show how much Paul respected Jefferson for his strength in a situation that was tough for everyone else in the town as well. Paul also recognizes that Grant is the one that taught Jefferson his true worth and gave him credit.

Even though Grant denies that he made the change everyone knows he did, because he understood Jefferson and could get through to him. Grant’s choice to help Jefferson impacted him because he made a difference and did something more with his life. The choice impacted Jefferson because he finally saw himself as someone who is a man and that his life had value. Finally, the choice impacted the town because people saw that black people are cowardly ‘hogs’ but as strong men. There are many choices I have made in my life that have made an impact on me, similar to how Grant’s choice made an impact on himself. One of these choices I made was when I would decide to visit my grandma and listen to her stories or look at pictures with her. I would go over to her condo and talk to her in her living room, look at old pictures in the basement, or when I travelled with her I would ask questions. One specific time was last Christmas Eve when my family all met together at her house to celebrate. My dad had just fixed the old slide projector so we went down in the basement and played old slides against the wall. I heard so many stories and learned so much more about my family, my grandma and her life.

I could hear the projector light buzzing, the click as the slides would change, the voices sharing memories, and the laughter. These choices are very important to me now because my grandma just recently passed away. With my family being so close, having all the memories with my grandma really helped us all learn to focus on her life and not on how much we missed her. Losing someone who I love and that was very close to me caused me to learn a lot about myself and life itself. It taught me to love the little things and how important family really is. It also taught me that I need to live with no regrets and take every opportunity like it could be my last chance. My choice connects with Grant’s choice to visit with Jefferson because we both grew closer and learned a lot about the other person. In both situations the choice left us with something that lived on after the other person passed.

For me it was the stories and memories, for Grant and the town of Bayonne it was how Jefferson was strong even when everything was against him. To sum it up, the choices we make in life causes change, so we need to be aware of our decisions. For Grant, in the novel A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines, his choice to help Jefferson was important because he impacted Jefferson’s choice to die a man, which then started to change how white people in their town saw black people. It is important to make connections between our lives and this novel because it helps us understand and relate to others experiences, even if they are in our lives. The importance of how choices impact lives can be seen, not only in the novel but in everyone’s lives, and this is a great lesson to learn. This is true for Grant’s choices, my choices, and everyone’s choices.

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Analysis "A Lesson Before Dying" by Ernest J. Gaines. (2020, May 18). Retrieved from

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