A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

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A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

This book shows us that, even in the face of hopelessness, there is indeed hope, and there is a need to move forward. There is nothing that can change what the outcome will be in the end. However, in light of this, a person is left with two options. Either they could deny and fight it the entire way, or accept it, learn from it, and move forward. This paper will show you,, when given this situation, what the outcome will be when one choices to accept it and move on.

It is the 1940's, in a small Cajun community, there is a trial for the murder of a white liquor store attendant. The defense is Jefferson, a poorly educated black man. His appointed attorney is closing his argument in an attempt to spare his client the death penalty. His attorney states, "Gentlemen of the jury, be merciful. For God's sake, be merciful. He is innocent of all charges brought against him. But let us say he was not. Let us for a moment say he was not. What justice would there be to take this life? Justice, gentlemen? Why, I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this." (p. 8)

This statement suggests that Jefferson is no more aware of the situation than an animal that is about to be slaughtered. Jefferson viewed this statement from his defense attorney as a literal one. Thus, he began to believe he was nothing more then a hog and that he would, in turn, show them just what a hog is. Jefferson later emulates this point in his jail cell, with Grant, awaiting his execution by stating, ‘‘I'm an old hog… Just an old hog they fattening up to kill for Christmas. I'm go'n show you how a old hog eat" (p.83). At this point, Jefferson then kneels down on the floor, places his head in the bag. While eating, he makes noises similar to that of a hog.

Jefferson's early interpretation of the title is a very graphic one. It is that he is a hog. He must learn this before his execution and ultimately become the hog they have made him out to be. He intends to prove to everyone that he can become just what they claim he is.

Throughout the novel, Jefferson, with Grant's help, begins to change his view.
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