A Lesson Before Dying



Jefferson’s Character

A Lesson Before Dying takes place in a small Louisiana Cajun community in the late
1940’s. In the novel, Jefferson, a young black man, is an unwitting party to a liquor store shoot
out in which three men are killed; being the only survivor, he is convicted of a murder and
sentenced to death. Jefferson’s personality and physical appearance in the novel provides not only
a relationship to the courtroom and his cell, but also connected to the geographical setting of the
book.
In the initial setting of the novel, Jefferson sits in a courtroom located in rural
Louisiana, which is filled with anger , tension, isolation, and quietness from the people in the
room. This setting of the book supports Jefferson’s personality in chapter 9 when Jefferson’s
character is introduced. Jefferson’s cell could be considered the second setting or Jefferson’s
setting in the book. Jefferson’s relationship to the courtroom (initial setting) supports Jefferson’s
personality in the prison. He is isolated just like in the courtroom. “ There was an empty cell
between Jefferson and the rest of the prisoners” (Gaines 71). Jefferson’s cell was not only isolated
like a courtroom in rural Louisiana, but quiet. “Jefferson’s been quiet . . . He didn’t answer” (71).
Due to Jefferson’s isolation and quietness, he has built anger inside. An anger which had been
building up since the courtroom conviction. “Nothing don’t matter,”he said, looking up at the
ceiling.” (73)
The first setting of the novel is similar to Jefferson’s cell setting. The three settings: the
courtroom , location of the town, and prison all have similarities to Jefferson’s character traits.

Theme: Jefferson’s character represents race the best. The opportunity for equal
representation for the African Americans in the book is shown through Jefferson. There is a
constant comparison and view of blacks vs. whites in the novel. “ To show too much intelligence
would have been an insult to them.” (47) The respect of race varied in the book, but at the end
Jefferson’s character prevailed. The author summons the reader to confront the entire bitter
history of black people in the South and America as a whole. The theme of race ties into the novel
when the characters begin to declare the value of their lives in a time and place in which those
lives seemingly count for nothing. Jefferson’s relationship to the theme in the novel only occurs
when Jefferson provides hope for the African American culture. “ A hero does for others. He
would do anything for people he loves, because he knows it would make their lives better.” “You
could give something to her, to me, to those children in the quarter”(191). Jefferson has
something the other prisoners don’t have (knowledge) , which separates him from others. He has
the strength and ability of a wiseman.
Key Dialogue and Action: I feel that an epiphany was reached by Jefferson when Grant
was talking to him at the prison. “He looked at me in great pain. He may not have understood, but
something was touched, something deep down in him because he was still crying...”(193) Here
Jefferson shows his affection for the first time in the novel, his crying indicates life in him. The life
is between Grant and Jefferson. Water represents life, and the life that Jefferson has created with
Grant proves that some type of grand realization has been reached.
The other key action with Jefferson was his acceptance of Emma’s gumbo. Jefferson realizes how
much Emma really cares about him, even though he is going to die. His acceptance of Emmas
gumbo is the first step after his epiphany that indicates that Jefferson will represent and provide
hope for the African American culture. Jefferson’s Character

A Lesson Before Dying takes place in a small Louisiana Cajun community in the late
1940’s. In the novel, Jefferson, a young black man, is an unwitting party to a liquor store shoot
out in which three men are killed; being the only survivor, he is convicted of a murder and
sentenced to death. Jefferson’s personality and physical appearance in the novel provides not only
a relationship to the courtroom and his cell, but also connected to the geographical setting of the
book.
In the initial setting of the novel, Jefferson sits in a courtroom located in rural
Louisiana, which is filled with anger , tension, isolation, and quietness from the people in the
room. This setting of the book supports Jefferson’s personality in chapter 9 when Jefferson’s
character is introduced.