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The book lesson Before Dying draws its setting from a fictional community known as Bayonne in Louisiana. The time of setting is the late 1940s. Mr. Jefferson, a young black who works in a farm is falsely accused and convicted for murdering a white man. He is sentenced to death by electrocution. The defense attorney of Jefferson argues that Jefferson is illiterate and even if he murdered the victim he does not have knowledge of what he did and, therefore, sentencing him to death is like putting a hog to roast on an electric seat. There is an element of racial discrimination in this case. Jefferson is not pleased, by the way, the attorney refers to him as to a dumb. The fact that he is black makes the white men to judge him as illiterate.

How the interaction helped them

Jefferson’s godmother requests Mr. Grant, a plantation school teacher to go to the jail to train Jefferson how to become a man. This depicts her confidence and trust for Grant as a teacher who can positively reverse the life of her Godson to realize himself. She refers to him in chapter 2 as “you the teacher”. Indeed Miss Emma believes in Grant despite the unbelief that the white men have on him. Grant realizes the high level of discrimination by the whites. He is treated as equally uneducated Jefferson despite being educated. He is down due to this. Jefferson, on the other side, suffers from inhumane treatment against his community. He is angry at the whites because of the bad treatment.

The two interact and share with each other. This happens during the several months that Jefferson stays in jail awaiting his execution. Their bonding prepares the two to regain their dignity.  Jefferson is ready to die a dignified death which would be a validation to his community, which has suffered incidences of mistreatment from the white men.  Grant is given a chance to realize and explore his potential as a perfect teacher who can safely deliver his students to a brilliant future. Despite the encouragement from Emma, Grant is hopeless to change Jefferson’s life. He says that, “I can’t raise the dead”. This shows that Jefferson was already down to the drain as far as his personality is concerned.

Grant does not quit despite being discouraged that he can not change Jefferson. Grant and Miss Emma go to the county jail to visit Jefferson. They take food for him, treat him kindly in a bid to help him realize that he is respected and catered for everything. Grant does not talk about the negative sides of his visit but rather encourages Jefferson with kind words. Grant corrects Jefferson when he goes wrong. Grant’s visits to jail warm the heart of Jefferson.  They seem to get along with time. Jefferson changes into a better person than before. In the long run, Grant’s ability to change the life of Jefferson proves to him that he can be of positive effect to people. His esteem as a teacher and leader grows. Jefferson behaves better due to Grant’s encouraging treatment (Gaines 27). Grant tells Jefferson that he wants him to be a friend and a hero. He helps him to realize his generous side. Grant helps Jefferson and Rev. Ambrose talks about prayer. This makes his life to change. Grant gets his students to pray for Jefferson on the day of execution. Jefferson finally faces death with dignity. 


The story of Grant and Jefferson is an exemplary illustration of how friend’s support can change a life. The two were able to gain for their faithful friendship. Jefferson died in peace while Grant discovered his capability.

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