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The Strength To Change The World

1108 words - 5 pages

What if you were sentenced to death for a crime you did not commit? What if you were then proclaimed to be a hog by a jury of your peers? What if you had 5 months to learn to grow from the hog you are said to be, to a man so that you are able to stand tall and walk to your death on your own two legs with your head held high? What would you learn? These questions are the central conflict of the novel A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines. This book takes place on a plantation in the deeply racist state of Louisiana in the 1940s, where a black man named Jefferson is sentenced to death by means of the electric chair by an all-white jury for a murder that he did not commit. Jefferson’s white lawyer’s only defense is that Jefferson, being a black man, is a hog and was therefore not capable of planning the murder. Jefferson, with the help of a local quarter teacher named Grant Wiggins, must learn to be a man in the little time he has left. Throughout the book, Jefferson learns to take responsibility for his actions, sacrifice himself for others, and have dignity in the face of injustice in order to find strength to face the electric chair and thereby change his community forever.
First, Jefferson learns to accept responsibility for his actions. Although he was wrongly accused, Jefferson admits he made a mistake by getting in the car with Brother and Bear and he takes responsibility for his mistake. In his diary, Jefferson writes “i aint had no bisnes goin ther wit brother an bear cause they aint no good an im gon be meetin them soon [in heaven or hell],”(Gaines 233). In this quote, Jefferson admits to himself that he should not have been with brother and bear and accepts responsibility for his decision to be with them. Jefferson’s acceptance allows him to grow to be more true to himself, be more mature, and become, as he is trying to be, a man. Accepting responsibility for his actions also allows Jefferson to accept his unjust consequences more and to gain strength from that to face the electric chair. Jefferson’s growth is evidenced when, later in his diary, Jefferson writes “good by mr wigin tell them im strong tell them im a man good by mr wigin,” (Gaines 234). In this quote, he shows all the things he has gained from his acceptance, demonstrating strength (when he says I’m strong), manhood (when he says and truly believes “im a man mr wigin,”) and the maturity to keep his composure when saying goodbye. All of these inner changes were only brought around and realized by Jefferson after he learned to take acceptance of responsibility for his actions.
Jefferson also learned to sacrifice himself for others. Early in the book, Grant defines heroism. He says, “Do you know what a hero is Jefferson? A hero is someone who does something for other people. He does something other men don’t and can’t do. He is different from other men. He is above other men…. A hero does for others. He would do anything for the people he loves, because he knows it will...

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