Jefferson`s Lessons before Dying

Jefferson’sLessons before Dying

Theconditions surrounding one’s life cannot act as a limit to thelessons one can learn when a positive attitude is set to purpose.Jefferson is a prime reference for such a lesson about theexperiences he faces in prison and people he encounters. Racistremarks by a court-appointed attorney render a young man Jefferson toperceive himself as a beast that is not worthy of human dignity andrespect due to all human beings. Jefferson exemplifies himself as ayoung black male internalized into self-hatred shown to him by whiteracists. Jefferson staunchly believes that he is not condemned to dielike a man but rather to be destroyed like a beast. Driven by theimmense love for her godson, Miss Emma is determined to make himhuman. In collaboration with Tante Lou, Miss Emma seeks the help ofMr. Grant Wiggins, a teacher to try and get through to her godson andteach him how to be human (Gaines, 57). This paper will confer thelessons that Jefferson learns during his time in jail before he faceshis execution.

First,the dignity that is inherent in human beings and the one extended tothem by others makes them different from beasts. Jefferson learns aninvaluable lesson that he is not a hog but a man who deservesdignity. Losing a sense of dignity can lead to damaging behaviorsthat can reduce human beings to beasts. Before his transformation,Jefferson refers himself as a hog and to reveal this, he never washeshis face or combs his hair for days, and at the same time wears oldkhaki shorts, a wrinkled pair of shorts and is always barefoot(Gaines, 66). Jefferson says “I am an old hog, just an old hog theyare fattening to kill for Christmas” (Gaines, 68). To emphasizethis, he rages in his cell, mimicking a hog’s behavior and jeeringat his friends and family and at times refusing to speak to them. Mr.Wiggin’s initial efforts to transform prove that transformationemanates from within a person.

Regainingone dignity is a gradual process that requires positive manipulation.Jefferson learns this by Grants frequent visits. Grants strivestrigger his feelings developing a friendship. He persuades him tobefriend his nanaan. He asks, “Will you be her friend?” (Gaines,156). Grants unperturbed determination yields fruits as he graduallyestablishes a connection between him and Jefferson. Grant brings in aradio and a notebook for Jefferson. Jefferson begins to believe inhis worth. The relationship between the two slowly cements into afriendship and this friendship brings Jefferson to the realization ofhis worth as a man (Gaines, 156). Gradually, Jefferson exudes humancharacteristics and feelings including caring about his nannan unlikepreviously when all his replies denoted that he does not care becauseas a hog with no feelings. He begins to believe that his life andmanner of dying might have symbolic importance for his community.

Anotherimportant lesson that Jefferson learns is that even the woefullyuneducated man can possess depths of intelligence and lyricism.Paying attention to even the simple and observable differences thatdifferentiate human beings and beasts are depictions of one’s worthin the society. In his diary, Jefferson finally puts it clear thathe is a man and not a hog when he quotes that a man walks on two feetwhile hogs walk on four hoofs (Gaines, 180). Eventually, Jeffersonbecomes the Christ-like character, a figure that his community looksup to for their salvation. Jefferson is courageous and grateful tothe end and faces his unjust death with bravely and with his dignity(Sickles, 55)

Jeffersonalso learns to appreciate the feelings of other people especiallythose who mean well to him. While still in jail learns that he is theepitome of a real hero and takes as Grants feelings towards himpositively. He is the true hero who does anything to make the peoplehe loves happy. He reveals this by eating the gumbos that Miss Emmabrings in for him just to make her feel better. Jefferson also takeshis time to listen to Reverend Ambrose as requested by Mr. Wigginsbecause it makes his nannan happy. Jefferson’s triumphanttransformation from a “hog” to a man allows him to become asymbol of heroism to the entire African American community (Atwell,82). The lesson changes his perception of the myth thatAfrican-Americans are inferior and proves that the white man has nojustification for having made them slaves. He appears more human tothe prison warders and other inmates than his former self.Both thewhite men and blacks treat him with dignity which provides hope forthe black community that racism is soon coming to an end. His deathaffects everyone in the society, and the entire black community comestogether because of his courage. It is through him that they alsodiscover their self-worth (Sickles, 55).

Jeffersonalso learns that it is the influence that one has on his communityand the motivation they draw from him that gives them hope for abetter life. Initially, Jefferson pictures himself as a mere man whohas spent his entire life working for poor wages. Being poor andunworthy is a perception that exists in the mind of an individual.When one sets a higher purpose in life, he occupies his position inthe community. Jefferson takes this to heart upon reflecting on hismundane life working without any protests for he believed this wasthe position of the lowly like him in the world. Things take adifferent turn when Jefferson learns that he is not a poor man whohas nothing, and he matters so much to people around him (Sickles,53). Through Grants teachings, Jefferson comes into a realizationthat African-Americans are not inferior to the whites since humanityis common to all (Gaines, 188).

Jefferson,Miss. Emma’s godson dies having learned three essential lessons Heis a man, a hero and a symbol of unity and hope between the white andthe African-Americans. He becomes a messianic figure and a mobilizingforce that brings the two communities together (Sickles, 53). On hisday of execution, he walks with grace and honor, a presence sonoticeable that the witnesses remark how well he stands before thecrowd. His lessons before dying are fulfilled as he finally walks tohis death.


Atwell,Mary. EvolvingStandards of Decency: Popular culture and capital Punishment.New York, NY: Peter Lang. 2004.Print.

Gaines,Ernest, (1997). Alesson before dying.New York, NY: Vintage Books. 1997. Print.

Sickles,Amy. African-AmericanWrites.New York, NY: Infobase Publishing. (2010). Print.

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