In the novel ” A Lesson Before Dying”, Ernest J. Gaines puts focus on the drastic change of Jefferson’s life, a young black man after he is unfairly sentenced to death.

The story takes place near a plantation in Louisana in the late 1940s and surprisingly not in the prison yet. Other places where actions happen are Bayonne where Grant Wiggins, the first person narrator has his girlfriend and the court announcing the verdict.

Hereinafter, I will point out all the information I could find on Jefferson in the chapters 1 to 6. This will be structured according to the different perspectives.


In the godmother’s opinion, Jefferson represents a significant part in her life. Though Miss Emma, as everyone, knows the verdict she is extremely shocked since she cares for his godson. This can be proven by seeing her immobility (p.7, l.9 ff.). Additionally, the compassion and the close relationship between the nannan and Jefferson is shown if one regards her depression while saying that her godson was described as a hog (p.15, l.8f.). Miss Emma is deeply hurt and moved not only by the verdict, so the fact of losing Jefferson (p. 21, l.15ff.) but also by the claim of raising a hog . ” They called my boy a hog, Mr. Henri,” Miss Emma said. ” I didn’t raise no hog, and i don’t want no hog to go set in that chair. I want a man to go set in that chair, Mr. Henri.”(p. 21. l.29ff.). This demonstrates that she wants Jefferson to acquire pride and dignity guaranteeing  him not to be a boy and a fool with a modicum of intelligence anymore but to be an example of a real man. On the one hand, regret can be noticed this way because it proves his lack of experience but on the other hand it depicts her love to Jefferson as it permits him an educational  progress. She cares for him and cannot stand the judicial decision : “Jefferson go’n need me, but I’m too old to be going up there.My heart w”nt take it…” (p. 21, l.34ff.).


The prosecutor claims Jefferson to be an animal (p.10, l. 15.). Apart from that, in his point of view, Jefferson had the full intention of committing that crime(p.10,l.11ff.) so character traits of his are likely to be evil, bad , cold hearted and greedy.

My Personal View

I guess that Jefferson is an innocent, honest and normal boy because he is raised by godmother who told him to live a proper life and not to do any wrong (p.10, l.1f.). But I’m also of the opinion that he lacks education as he does not react in any kind in court.

Defence Lawyer

“Jefferson was innocent of all charges except being at the wrong place at the wrong time” (p.10, l.18f.). Furthermore, the defence lawyer associates him with nouns as hunger and plain stupidity (p.10, l.26). This simplemindedness is underlined as he says that Jefferson is rather a boy and a fool than a man with a modicum of intelligence and as he describes him as a slave acting on command, not knowing whether something is right or wrong (p.10,l.31ff. ; p.11,l.12.). As a consequence of that foolishness, according to the lawyer, Jefferson is not even capable of planning such a crime (p.11, l.6ff.). Not to forget that he represents the backbone for the family, playing the role of the reason to go on living (p.11, l.29ff.).