A Lesson Before Dying Summary
In this book by Ernest J. Gaines, Grant Wiggins has been a teacher for many years in Bayonne, Louisiana. Jefferson is sentenced to death for murder. Jefferson insists on his innocence. His defense is that he was going to the bar before he changed his mind and walked with two men towards a liquor store. A fight led to the death of the two men and the store owner. He was charged with the murder because he was the only one at the crime scene. Though the lawyer vehemently defends him, the jury passes a guilty verdict.
Miss Emma, her grandmother, wants to help him die a manly death to fight the hog comment from the lawyer. She uses Grant’s aunt, Tante Lou, to convince him to assist Jefferson. They all visit Jefferson cell. Since they find Jefferson in low spirits, it becomes hard to communicate. Grant finds it hard to help because Jefferson refuses to talk to him on several occasions. He continues patiently, though. During the fourth visit, he manages to talk to Jefferson. Grant even borrows some money and purchases a small radio for Jefferson. Next time, he comes with a notebook and requests Jefferson scribble the thoughts in his mind. On the next visit, the book is filled with Jefferson’s thoughts on Humans and hogs.
Vivian, Grant’s girlfriend, hates his nature of concentrating on himself and ignoring her needs. Grant suggests they should run away and start anew in the South. After Reverend Ambrose loses touch with Jefferson, he persuades Grant to save Jefferson’s soul.
Grant concentrates on Jefferson and justifies the reasons for Jefferson’s death. He claims Jefferson has the chance to defend the black community against the segregation they face. In March, the date for execution date is set by Louisiana’s governor. It is 14 days after Easter. The news makes many people in the town begin visiting him. With the increase in the number of visitors, he notices the responsibility he has over the people.
Due to his closeness to Jefferson, Grant finds it hard to attend the execution. On that day, he commands the students to show honor to Jefferson by kneeling. He feels guilty for not attending.