A Lesson Before Dying

Essay by lil_babydoll January 2004

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The story takes place in a rural town in Louisiana in the late 1940's where a young black man named Jefferson is about to go to the electric chair for murder. He has been accused of killing a storeowner and two men. What actually happens is that one day while Jefferson is on his way to a bar he decides to follow two men who were on their way to a liquor store. When they get there, the two men have an argument with the owner and there is a shooting. All three die, the storeowner and the two men, leaving Jefferson there with the blame when he has nothing but innocence. As Jefferson goes to trial, he is labeled as nothing but a fool. Intervening on the situation is Jefferson's godmother Miss Emma who wants to show Jefferson a lesson: to die like a man. Aiding her in the attempts to make Jefferson appear to be a man to the society that degraded him Miss Emma calls upon Grant Wiggins a schoolteacher to help her.

He is very hesitant but is persuaded by his aunt Tante Lou to try to help Jefferson. After the three visit Jefferson in jail, he refuses to be helped by Grant after many visits. On Grant's fourth visit, he finally breaks through to Jefferson and gets him to request his last meal of vanilla ice cream. A visible difference is made when Grant asks Jefferson to write down all his thoughts in a small notepad with the company of a radio. Gradually you start to realize that Jefferson is more receptive to the visits with Grant. Over time growing closer to the execution he starts to receive visits from children and different townspeople. Jefferson finally realizes that he has become a very exceptional man...