In the novel A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines, a young black male named Jefferson is on death row for a crime, which he did not commit. While in jail, another African American teacher Grant Wiggins, tries to teach Jefferson to die with dignity. Instances where it is illustrated that Jefferson does not have dignity is when the lawyer calls him a hog, when the lawyer calls Jefferson a fool, and when the lawyer calls him stupid. .
One example of when Jefferson is said to have no dignity is when the lawyer says, " What justice would there be to take this life? Justice, gentleman? Why I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this?" (Gains 8). The lawyer reduces the status of Jefferson to that of an animal. This shatters every last piece of dignity that he has ever had. Jefferson takes this very seriously and is very embarrassed when this is said. Jefferson wants to die a man not in a slaughterhouse like some hog would. Additionally this represents how the white society feels towards black people, and Jefferson then was looked at as an icon of the black race.
Another place where it is illustrated that Jefferson might actually be understanding why he must die with dignity is when Grant says, " I want you to show them the difference between what they think you are and what you can be. To them you"re nothing but another nigger- no dignity, no heart, no love for your people. You can prove them wrong" (191). When Grant tells him this, Jefferson starts to understand how important for his race it is for him to die with dignity. He also begins to understand that .
this will impact the entire community and it might actually change the view of how the white people see the black society. Soon after this, Grant asks Jefferson a very difficult thing to do, die with dignity. Grant says that if he can march to the electric chair full of pride and dignity that he will rebel against the community of white oppressors.