A Lesson Before Dying

by: Ernest J. Gaines

Important Quotations Explained

1
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.

In Chapter 1, Jefferson’s defense attorney asks the jury to spare -Jefferson’s life by implying it would be cruel to kill a man no more intelligent or moral than a hog. He voices the ugly belief, held by many whites, that blacks are animals. Jefferson becomes haunted by the idea and begins acting like a hog, angrily refusing to talk and rooting through his food. Miss Emma realizes the impact the attorney’s words have on Jefferson and makes it her business to ensure Jefferson dies like a man, not like an animal. When Jefferson decides to die with dignity, he shakes off the jeering stereotypes pinned on him by whites. Furthermore, because the attorney expressed a stereotype about blacks held by many whites, when Jefferson acts nobly he acts on behalf of an entire oppressed community.