Illustration of a man visiting another man in jail

A Lesson before Dying

by Ernest J. Gaines

Start Free Trial

Who visits Jefferson at the start of A Lesson Before Dying?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Ernest J. Gaines's 1993 novel A Lesson Before Dying, a young innocent black man named Jefferson is charged with and convicted of murder. During the trial, Jefferson's attorney uses the defense that Jefferson is too stupid to commit such a crime—that he's no smarter than a hog—which makes Jefferson question his worth as a human being.

The story takes place in the segregated South. In the first chapter, Grant Wiggins, a local schoolteacher and the only educated black man in the town, recalls the events leading up to the trial. In chapter 2, Jefferson's highly religious godmother, Miss Emma, visits Grant and pleads with him to visit Jefferson in prison and help him regain his human dignity.

Grant invariably believes that society is racist and that the entire trial is a sham, a circus with a predetermined outcome. Jefferson is going to die no matter what, so what's the point? He resists at first. However, Miss Emma's persistence prevails, and at the beginning of chapter 9, Grant takes Miss Emma with him to visit Jefferson in the Bayonne jail, where he's being kept.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In A Lesson Before Dying, Grant agrees to visit Jefferson on a regular basis.  Since Jefferson has been put in jail, he has only received visitors from his family, primarily his godmother Miss Emma.  Grant's aunt is friendly with Miss Emma, so she asks that Grant go to visit Jefferson to talk him out of his slump.  Grant agrees and goes through all the screening processes required by the sheriff.  On the first few visits, Grant goes to the jail with Miss Emma--he does not really know Jefferson and is still not sure what he will do or say during these visits.  Afterwards, Grant begins to visit Jefferson alone.  Jefferson confides his feelings of inferiority to Grant, and Grant is eventually able to convince Jefferson that he is a man.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial