Dignity and Sacrifice Depicted in Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying

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In Ernest J. Gaines novel A Lesson Before Dying, a young African-American man named Jefferson is caught in the middle of a liquor shootout, and, as the only survivor, is convicted of murder and sentenced to death. During Jefferson’s trial, the defense attorney had called him an uneducated hog as an effort to have him released, but the jury ignored this and sentenced him to death by electrocution anyways. Appalled by this, Jefferson’s godmother, Miss Emma, asks the sheriff if visitations by her and the local school teacher, Grant Wiggins, would be possible to help Jefferson become a man before he dies. The sheriff agrees, and Miss Emma and Mr. Wiggins begin visiting Jefferson in his jail cell. Throughout the book, Jefferson has two seemingly opposite choices in front of him; become a man, and make his godmother and other relatives proud by dying with dignity, or, remain in the state of a hog with the mentality that nothing matters because he will die regardless of his actions. The choices Jefferson is faced with, and the choice he makes, highlights the book’s idea of having dignity ...

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