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.
At first, Grant and Jefferson seem a study in contrast, but as they slowly move toward mutual trust and respect, it is clear that Grant, as much as Jefferson, has a great deal to learn about what it is to be a man.
Grant and Jefferson will finally share equally in the lesson all of us must learn before dying: what it means to be human.
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.
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.
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.