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A Lesson Before Dying

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Ultimately Making Better Men

In A Lesson Before Dying, a novel written by award winning author Ernest Gaines, an unexpected relationship develops between a black man who was at the "wrong place, wrong time" and was wrongly accused of murder, and a teacher who returns to his hometown and finds himself being persecuted. The man wrongly accused of murder is Jefferson, and the teacher is Grant.

Jefferson's own lawyer refers to Jefferson as a hog, when he says "Why I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair" (Gaines 7). His lawyer also refers to him as "a cornered animal to strike quickly out of fear" (Gaines 7). Later in the story, it is seen that Jefferson internalizes that portrayal of him. He actually ends up acting like the animal the lawyer characterizes him to be. He even starts thinking of himself as a "nonhuman". He asks for the corn to eat because that's what hogs eat" (Gaines 82). When he is offered candy, he states "hogs don't eat no candy" (Gaines 83). He even ended up eating like a hog: "he knelt down on the floor and put his head inside the bag and started eating, without using his hands. He even sounded like a hog" (Gaines 83).

Another pattern that occurs when Miss Emma, Jefferson's godmother asks that Grant go visit Jefferson in jail and make a man out of him: "I want the teacher visit my boy. I want the teacher make him know that he's not a hog, he's a man" (Gaines 20 to 21). Miss Emma wants Jefferson to know that he is not the foolish, worthless animal his lawyer made him out to be, but that he is a human being with feelings, who counts for something in this world. Grant is then sent to the jail to try and make Jefferson a "man" before he dies. Ultimately, not only does Grant end up making a man out of Jefferson, but Jefferson makes an even better man out of Grant as well.

When they both first met, Jefferson thinks he is nothing but a hog, and grant is ill tempered, bitter, and selfish. He hates the place he lives, and he even hates teaching; in general, he hates his own life. (Gaines 14) The more that Grant talks with Jefferson, the more in touch with their feeling they each get. As they learn more about each other, they find out not only that their lives aren't that bad, but they are more worthy of making a change in it. At one of their last meetings, Jefferson tells grant that he is just going to do the best he can. Grant then says, "You're more of a man than I am, Jefferson."

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