A Lesson Before Dying

by: Ernest J. Gaines

Jefferson Quotes

Quotes Jefferson Quotes
He was halfway across the room, the money stuffed inside his jacket pocket, the half bottle of whiskey clutched in his hand, when two white men walked into the store. That was his story.

These lines represent Jefferson’s version of what happened after the murder, as recounted by the narrator, Grant Wiggins, as the novel begins. In the moment, Jefferson could not even remember how he had landed in the store, and he does not possess a criminal mind. However, he needed and wanted a drink to clear his confusion, and while taking the whiskey, he saw the money sitting in plain view. These details convict him and set off the action of the novel.

You know, don’t you? his eyes said again. I looked back at him. My eyes would not dare to answer him. But his eyes knew what my eyes knew.

This silent exchange serves as the first real communication between Jefferson and Grant. Jefferson has just asked Miss Emma when he will be executed, but she pretends not to know what he is talking about. Grant and Jefferson then exchange glances, glances that reveal truths no one dares to speak at this point. This exchange marks the beginning of the conversation between the two men, the essential relationship in the novel.

“I’m a old hog,” he said. “Youmans don't stay in no stall like this. I’m a old hog they fattening up to kill.”

Being found guilty and condemned to death has completely stripped Jefferson of whatever shred of self-respect he may have had before the crime was committed. Here, he agrees with the attorney’s assessment of him, that he is no better than a farm animal. Although Grant disagrees with Jefferson and tries to reassure him of his humanity, Jefferson proceeds to illustrate his point by eating Miss Emma’s food on the floor of his cell while on his knees just like a hog.

I would have hit any other man for saying that. But I recognized his grin for what it was—the expression of the most heartrending pain I had ever seen on anyone’s face.

During one of their visits, Jefferson insults Miss Emma in a vile way, and Grant reacts strongly. However, as he explains here, Grant holds back his knee-jerk reaction out of pity for Jefferson’s situation and because, for the first time, he sees real emotion in Jefferson’s face. Jefferson is slowly opening up to Grant and showing his pain, even in the midst of his anger, and such an expression is the first step needed for Grant to get through to him.

I had told the students that this program should be dedicated to Jefferson, and they had taken the message home, and many people who had never attended a Christmas or graduation program came to the church that night.

Grant has helped his students prepare a Christmas program, and the entire community turns out because the program is dedicated to Jefferson. Readers learn that one gift under the tree contains a sweater and pair of socks for Jefferson, items purchased with money the children made picking pecans. Jefferson’s burden is carried by the entire community. His fate is their fate. His suffering is their suffering. The injustice that will kill him is felt by them all.

“Tell—tell the chirren thank you for the pe-pecans,” he stammered. I caught myself grinning like a fool. I wanted to throw my arms around him and hug him.

Jefferson expresses gratitude for the pecans, a gift from Grant’s students. The moment marks a breakthrough for both him and Grant. Jefferson’s words of thanks represent the first time he steps out of his own head and self-pity and thinks about someone else. The joy that Jefferson’s words inspires in Grant feels significant. The two men shake hands before Grant leaves. Jefferson is finally changing for the better.

i just feel like tellin you i like you but i don't kno how to say this cause I aint never say it to nobody before an nobody aint never say it to me

In his diary, Jefferson opens his heart to Grant Wiggins. He admits that Grant has been a great comfort to him and that he holds a genuine affection for him. He writes that Grant looks very tired sometimes, which serves as more evidence that he has emerged from his inner darkness and cares about other people. In addition, readers learn that Jefferson wants to see his nannan, or godmother, Miss Emma, one more time

i tol her i was strong an she jus look ole and tied an pull me to her an kiss me an it was the firs time she never done that an it felt good an I let her hol me long is she want cause you say it was good for her an i tol her i was strong an she didn need to come back no mo cause i was strong

Jefferson recounts a moment he shares with Miss Emma, a moment that stands as a turning point in the novel. He has finally learned how to give and accept love. He has finally been able to break free from his misery and pain. He has been saved, but not in a traditional religious way. He has been saved from his own self-centeredness.

good by mr wigin tell them im strong tell them im a man good by mr wigin in gon ax paul if he can bring you this sincely jefferson

These lines, written in Jefferson’s diary, represent Jefferson’s last words to Grant. From these words, readers may infer that Jefferson held his head up as he met his fate and acknowledged the support that he received from the deputies and from his friend, Grant. He fulfilled his godmother’s wish and learned the lesson that Grant had set out to teach him. Readers learn that although Grant does not take credit for this transformation, Paul, the deputy sheriff, states unequivocally that Grant is most certainly responsible for Jefferson’s transformation and that he was a great teacher.

“He was the strongest man in that crowded room, Grant Wiggins,” Paul said, staring at me and speaking louder than was necessary. “He was, he was. I’m not saying this to make you feel good, I’m not saying this to ease your pain.”

Paul, the deputy sheriff, has come from Bayonne to the school to tell Grant that the execution has happened, and he reveals Jefferson’s courage and strength throughout the ordeal. Over the course of the story, Paul and Grant developed a close bond around Jefferson, and in this scene, Paul expresses his respect for all that Grant has done. Paul says that he will never forget Jefferson’s bravery. The two men comfort each other as the novel comes to a close.