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Society's Degradation of Jefferson

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The novel, A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines is set on a plantation in Louisiana in the 1940s during the segregation era. The story is narrated by Grant Wiggins whodescribe the hardships both Grant Wiggins and Jefferson encounteredin society. Grant Wiggins who is the only African American teacher in the plantation lives with his aunt Tante Lou. Since the story is told by first person, it is edified around Grant. Gaines defines Mr. Wiggins as an angry, harsh and self- engrossed person. Throughout the novel, Mr. Wiggins demonstrates how he is angry at the society he lives in. He constantly blames his society for saddling him with irrational potentials and suffocates him instead of letting him to leave Louisiana and follow his own path in life. In other hands, Jefferson lives with his godmother. The community he lives him acknowledge him a hog. Jefferson being present in an illegal act ruins his reputation and he has been convicted of murder and sentenced to die in an electric chair. Gaines portrays a rigidly prejudice society by the conflict between Jefferson and the society or man vs. society. Jefferson was influenced by the society both positively and negatively in his life. The white people in the community influenced him negatively by making Jefferson believes he is less than a human and he is a hog. However His godmother and Grant influenced him positively when he was able to recognize he was a man, a strong black man who can change people perspectives.

Gaines portrays how what was being said in the jury influenced Jefferson to be less than a man. How the society portrays Jefferson in the novel makes him realize that he was really a hog. In the jury Jefferson's defense attorney stated "a man with a modicum would have seen that those racketeers meant no good. But not a fool" (Gaines 7). The attorney characterizes Jefferson as a fool because a man who is brave should have a common sense that the boy he was with in the store was not to no good. While the attorney call Jefferson a fool, the lawyer call him a hog, after quickly stated "Why, I'd just as soon put a hog in the electric chair"(Gaines 8). The lawyer wanted Jefferson to be put in the electric chair because he was a hog who was in African American. The attorney thought that calling Jefferson a hog would let him free because he is a man who is not intelligent , but instead it make Jefferson realize that he is not a man but a hog. The fact that the lawyer says "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." (Gaines 8). What the lawyer says make Jefferson haunted by the idea and he begin acting like a hog, by his behavior.

The people in Jefferson's life who influenced him to become a man are Grant Wiggins, the teacher, and Ms. Emma, the godmother. The black people in the society influence him positively, for example Grant never



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