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In Ernest J. Gaine’s novel, A Lesson Before Dying, Jefferson has been sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. This is a story of struggle into manhood and how Jefferson becomes a hero for his community and family. Grant Wiggins reluctantly helps Jefferson build dignity and walk like a man to his execution. Jefferson impacted Grant and the lives of his community by standing with dignity, but he had to work through emotions and dig himself out of a hole to make this happen.
During the court hearing, the prosecutor was showing Jefferson to be uneducated and giving preconceived notions due to the color of his skin. The prosecutor described him as, “A thing to hold the handle of a plow, a thing to load your bales of cotton, a thing to dig your ditches, to chop your wood, to pull your corn” (Gaines, 8). He discussed the shape of his skull and the flatness of his face and called him a thing.
The prosecutor made him feel like an animal and not a human being. Jefferson felt no worth except to do what the men wanted him to do.
When Jefferson was in jail and Grant came to visit him, Grant witnessed Jefferson giving into the preconceived notions by eating without his hands while on all fours as a hog would do. Jefferson had a turning point when he wanted a gallon of ice cream. Jefferson confided in Grant at this point, which he did not do often up to this point in the book.
Grant stated, “I saw a slight smile come to his face and it was not a bitter smile. Not bitter at all.” (Gaines, 173) Jefferson begins to show some emotion and there is a glimmer of a human being coming back in him. Jefferson and I have had to make choices to improve our situations. I have made a choice that at the start of my sophomore year I wasn’t going to do well because I didn’t put my mind to many things in school and didn’t care. As soon as basketball started I was disappointed in myself because I couldn’t play and it’s the same with Jefferson. Jefferson was listening to other people and fell to their beliefs. He believed he was a hog, but with the help of Grant, he climbed out of the hole he dug into. Jefferson’s actions have impacted Grant’s life and the lives of the community in which he lived. His actions will hopefully help people to stand up for their rights of others to see justice and do good for all.
Jefferson discusses with Grant and also writes in his diary about the impact on the black community and how Jefferson is going to be looked upon as a hero. When Paul, the prison guard, comes to tell Grant that the execution was done he told him Jefferson died as the strongest man in the room. Paul stated, “He was the strongest man in that crowded room, Grant Wiggins,” Paul said, staring at me and speaking louder than was necessary. “He was, he was. I’m not saying this to make you feel good, I’m not saying this to ease your pain.” (Gaines, 258) This was a turning point in the story in which a prison guard was saying how dignified Jefferson was during his execution. Paul will tell others and he will be portrayed as a hero for the black community. Hopefully hearing his plight will change how the white people felt of his execution and realize they were in the wrong. It was characterized in the story that Jefferson was innocent, so having others know how strong he was will impact how people think of him. Another part demonstrating the impact on others in the story was when Grant wanted to dedicate the Christmas program to Jefferson. In fact, Grant “told the students that this program should be dedicated to Jefferson, and they had taken the message home, and many people who had never attended a Christmas or graduation program came to the church that night. “ (Gaines, 144) This is an example of the impact on the community and coming together to recognize a hero. The children all worked together to purchase a sweater and socks for Jefferson by picking pecans. The community was feeling the sorrow and suffering of Jefferson. Jefferson also feels the comfort of the community and it is evident the community feels empathy for him. By deciding to listen to Grant, Jefferson proves that a single choice affects many people, not just yourself.
Jefferson made a conscious decision to think beyond what others thought of him. I have been working hard to bring my grades up so I can have dignity in myself just like Jefferson. Jefferson had Grant to help him become a man. I have Mr. Jacobson and my cousin Hannah to help me organize and discuss with me what I need to do to dig myself out of my situation. My choice does not include a life or death situation. My choice did not include other preconceived notions about myself and a jury did not put me in this situation. It was brought upon by myself. Jefferson and I have come to a low point in our lives. We also are turning our thought process around to better ourselves and how others perceive us. The choice I have made is important and will impact my life drastically because I might have a chance at going to college and bettering my life. If I wouldn’t be making this choice I may have to take summer classes or not graduate. My choice will impact my grades, teacher relationships, future job, and my relationship with my parents will be more positive. I know that children look up to me, literally, and hopefully, now they have a reason to want to be like me. So, the choices I make in the future will impact more people than I can imagine.
Jefferson and I, from one choice in our lives, will impact many people.
Jefferson was able to turn his life around, which was reiterated in his diary and confiding in Grant about leaving with dignity and not as a hog. I will start to do better in school, which will also impact many people and how they perceive my choices. I will also feel better about my own choices and how they affect me and others. It is important to make connections between our lives and novels as we read because we can bring about positive change in ourselves through life experiences. Knowing the impact one choice can make on a community and possibly as large as the world will make me more conscious of my decisions. Connecting to characters within a story also helps people to empathize with others. Others will benefit from learning about the impact of a choice and hopefully they will be willing to think a choice through before carrying it out. It was interesting how Grant was impacted by making Jefferson into a man, but he becomes one during the process of helping Jefferson. I hope I have impacted Mrs. Jacobson and my cousin Hannah in some way positive through my choices. Choices we make should be valued because of the influence it could have on others. Knowing the choices we make will affect others will make us conscious decision-makers and also make better outcomes.
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