A Literary Analysis of a Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

The movie “A Lesson Before Dying” by Ernest Gaines is set in the South, at the time of the Civil War, when blacks won their freedom. Ernest Gaines is the first black man in the South during the Civil War when blacks began to gain their freedom. A black man named Jefferson was in the wrong place at the right time and was convicted of the killing of a white bartender. He was made a fool of in the presence of a jury by his own lawyer. His lawyer, trying to play a compassionate role, made Jefferson look like a “pig”, which infuriated the jury. Jefferson was called a “hog”, which really infuriated his mother.

Thinking that he would be found guilty of the crime anyway, his mother wanted him to his mother wanted him to paint a human being, not a “pig”. So the mother asked a school teacher at Wiggins to teach Jefferson that he was not a “pig” but a human being. When Wiggins visited Jefferson and paid attention to his timee of distress, they both had changing attitude toward what was happen and both learned an valuable lesson from each other. At the beginning of the story when Jefferson’s mom asks Wiggins to help Jefferson, Wiggins really didn’t want to be bothered with him.

He was flustered with his job as a school teacher and sick and tired of not living life. Even though he agreed to help Jefferson out, he still had no idea how he would do it. He took out his frustration on the children he taught, by telling them his problem. He said, “Do you know what his nannan wants me to do before they kill him?”(39) and “Suppose I was allowed to visit him, and suppose I reached him and made him realize that he was as much a man as any other man; then what, he’s still going to dye.”(39) These are key examples showing that he didn’t want to do this and he had a very negative attitude toward helping Jefferson. With his attitude for helping Jefferson being in a negative way and Jefferson’s attitude being negative because of what his attorney had said about him and him dying. How would he learn to became a man? Jefferson’s negative attitude was understandable because he was about to die, but he still had to realize he is a man not a “hog”. He believed what the attorney had said about him and when the judge asked if he had any last words he just, “looked down in self-pity and shock his head.”(9)

He was show assumed of himself that he wouldn’t eat or wear any of the things his mom brought to him. Even when his mom brought him his favorite dish he replied, “It don’t matter.”(73) As Wiggins stared to visit Jefferson they both started to change their negative attitudes about their situation. Wiggins started to open himself to Jefferson and he did the same. At first when Jefferson didn’t want anything for himself he was depressed about what was said about him, but as Wiggins made him realize he was a man he started being more like a man.

Wiggins had asked him if he wanted something and he replied, “I want me a gallon of ice cream”(170) he then smiled when wiggins said he would get it for him. This showed that he had something to look forward to. Wiggins then said. “Do you want me to bring you a little radio next time I come”, (172) which was another thing that made Jefferson a little happier. As the conversion kept going between them Jefferson started remembering the robber and started to get depressed. Wiggins than said, “Inez is still giving her fair up this quarter” (171) trying to get his mind off of the robbery. This starts to show that Wiggins is starting to care more and that Jefferson is starting to act like a man. Toward the end of the story Wiggins states to realize that he is reaching Jefferson and that Jefferson is starting to reach him.

He says, “Your more than a man than I am, Jeff.”(225) realizing that Jefferson taught him that no matter what little thing you can do to help someone out, you are influencing someone’s life for the better. Heroic actions not necessarily have to be big just talking to someone and listening is being heroic. Jefferson replied, “I’m go’n to do my best, Mr. Wiggins” (225) showing that he was going to be the best man he could possibly be. He had learned that he is a man and not a “hog”. He taught Jefferson to be a man and no matter what other people say he will always be a man. Wiggin’s gained great respect to Jefferson, during the day when Jefferson’s death was taking place he told his class this,” In a couple of minutes it will be 12:00p.m., I will ask you to get down on your knees and remain on your knees until I ask you to get up.”(250) Shown that his attitude toward Jefferson turned toward compassion for his time of death. Wiggins and Jefferson both taught each other a lesson, Jefferson is a man and Wiggins could be a hero even doing the simplest task. Even though Jefferson still dyed, he died a man.

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