He was, in their opinion, too smart; he did not know his place.When Grant met with Sheriff Guidry at Pichot’s house, he was rudely forced to wait for hours in the kitchen and was spoken to condescendingly by Sheriff Guidry.
Gaines returns to the southern Louisiana setting he has established in his earlier fiction as his own. Jefferson, a barely literate young black man, sentenced to death for a shooting in which he was innocently involved, has heard his defense attorney say that executing Jefferson would be like putting a hog in the electric chair.
Jefferson has suffered so many outrages to his manhood during his short lifetime that he is altogether too ready to accept his attorney’s assessment.
During the 1940's the character of Jefferson is convicted of a murder that he did not commit. Emma, jefferson's godmother becomes sick and grants aunt, tante lou, spends time to take care of her.
For his closing argument, Jefferson's lawyer says, "What justice would there be to take this life? Why, I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this" pg.6 A Lesson Before Dying by Gaines. grant unfortunately has to go to the jailhouse alone to spend time with Jefferson.
The story takes place at the end of the 1940s, a time when Louisiana and many other southern states were practicing segregation.
The second college edition of the American Heritage Dictionary defines segregation as, “…The policy and practice of imposing the social separation of races, as in schools, housing, and industry…” (1111). Gaines employs a variety of settings to illustrate how this cruel practice invades every aspect of Grant and Jefferson’s When Grant did not agree with him, he advised Grant to leave the plantation and said that if he stayed, “ He’ll [the white man] make you the nigger you were born to be.” (65).After Grant had finished college and returned to the plantation as the new schoolmaster, Antoine offered him a final piece of advice, “Just do the best you can. From the courthouse to the schoolhouse stereotyping and discrimination based on simple differences in human biological variation existed, but it did not end there.Not only was Grant forced to endure harsh treatment from his teacher; the white community especially hated him because he was educated.For grant to be able to do this, grant undergoes a series of psychological changes and becomes a hero in his own right.By Grant teaching Jefferson to die with dignity and by Jefferson learning how to die with dignity they both initiate a change in the community by refusing to fulfill the expected expectations placed upon them by a racist white society.Living under the yoke of segregation affected Jefferson’s sense of self worth deeply.After being referred to as hog by the defense lawyer in the courtroom, Jefferson accepted it and even acted like a hog.After Grant answered a question intelligently, Guidry stated, “Maybe you’re just a little too smart for your own good.” (49).After earning a college degree, Grant was still unable to earn any respect from the whites in the community.But Jefferson’s aged godmother resolves that, if Jefferson must die, he will first come to know that he is a man.She enlists as her reluctant instrument Grant Wiggins, a university graduate who teaches the children in the black quarter during the months when they are not working in the fields.