Book Analysis: A Lesson Before Dying

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Can one man make a difference in society? In A Lesson before Dying, Grant Wiggins does not believe so. During the late 1940s a young black man, Jefferson, is present during a shooting in a liquor store. As the only survivor, he is put on trial, wrongly accused, and sentenced to death. Grant Wiggins, who is also a young black man, has returned to his hometown with a college education to teach. In part of the lawyer’s defense statement, Jefferson is called a hog, and the lawyer says a man such as himself would not have the brains to assemble a plan so intricate. Grant is persuaded by his aunt and Jefferson’s godmother to impart his wisdom to Jefferson, and remind him of his humanity before he is executed. Grant agrees reluctantly, but eventually …show more content…
He does not believe he has the ability to create change within the society, or single person. Due to the fact that he believes he is unable to express himself, he cannot see how even his role as an educator makes a positive difference (Auger). In fact, Wiggins is indifferent to both the school children and the society as a whole, and often times, as a result, Wiggins shows very little interest in his students, or their education. At one point in the novel he is quoted thinking, “And I thought to myself, What am I doing? Am I reaching them at all? They are doing exactly what the old men did earlier. They are fifty years younger, maybe more, but doing the same thing those old men did who never attended school a day in their lives. Is it just a vicious circle? Am I doing anything?” (Gaines 62). At this point in the book, Wiggins compares his educated school children to the uneducated older men within the society. He sees how the children appear to be the same, and therefore believes his work shows no promise of improvement. Wiggins believes that no matter what he learns, or what anyone else learns, there is nothing they can do to escape the standards employed upon them by their …show more content…
' 'I don 't know how he is, sir. Believe me, Mr. Guidry, if it was left up to me, I wouldn 't have anything to do with it at all, ' I said." (Gaines 49). Wiggins feelings towards educating Jefferson are the result of his hopeless feelings towards education in general, however these feelings start to change when he begins to meet with Jefferson. Wiggins visits Jefferson in jail during the weeks just before his death. After accepting the large task of instructing Jefferson, Wiggins slowly understands how much more it is actually worth. He tells Jefferson “I want you to show them the difference between what they think you are and what you can be” (Gaines 191). This means that Wiggins is beginning to see the impact he can make by educating Jefferson. Wiggins gives Jefferson a journal during these lessons and encourages him to speak and write although he is not literate. Eventually, Wiggins forms a bond with Jefferson that is central to the novel. Jefferson recognizes his humanity through this writing and in turn, Jefferson educates Wiggins of the impact he can make (Wardi). Wiggins makes a breakthrough when Jefferson asks him to thank his students for the pecans they sent him in jail (Rollyson). At this point in the novel Wiggins sees how Jefferson’s death has become symbolic and shows hope for all of the African American community. Wiggins whole identity is altered as he learns that all people are connected and responsible for each

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