Imagine being locked all alone in the back of a jailhouse for something that you did not do and knowing the exact day and way you were doing to die. Well, that was how it was for Jefferson, a 21-year-old black man, or in the judge's case a "hog," who was innocent just in the wrong place at the wrong time. "A Lesson before Dying" by Ernest J. Gaines, is about the ways in which people insist on declaring the value of their lives during a time and place in which their lives count for nothing. The novel is also about the ways in which the imprisoned may find freedom even in the moment of their death.
"I was not there, yet I was there." (Gaines 3) Grant says this in the beginning of the story reflecting back on Jefferson's trial. This quote characterizes Grant as a type of person who accepts his role in the society, in which he lives and feels a responsibility towards those around him. Although he was not present at the trial, it has become personal to him and the remorse he feels for the situation could be none the more real if he had been there. (www.accessus.net) Grant Wiggins, is a teacher at an elementary school. Grant is a very bitter man for being so young; maybe it is because he has known nothing but segregation and racism his whole life, growing up there in Bayonne, Louisiana. Over the course of the novel, he learns to accept responsibility for his own life, for his relations with other people, and for the condition of Southern society. .
Jefferson is another one of the main characters; Jefferson is a black man who is sensitive and somewhat stupid. Accused of the storeowners" murder Jefferson faces the death penalty; he becomes very depressed waiting on death row. Jefferson feels worthless in a white dominated world he lives in. but all of this changed when Grant befriends him and helps him out before he dies.
Jefferson is convicted of murder. The attorney defending Jefferson asked the jury to spare his life, because he was a "hog," not a man and there was no point in killing a hog that didn't know the consequences of his actions.