My friend Barbara lent me a book. She said, "We were talking about this."
We were? I didn't say that out loud but I had no idea what she was referring to.
The book in question is A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines.
Hmpf. Why am I supposed to be interested in this?" I asked myself. I pictured the book about "Living Wills," "Last Testaments" and maybe a bucket list.
I couldn't have been more wrong. A Lesson Before Dying is a good novel. It is a story about being black in Louisiana, mid-twentieth-century. Once I got hooked on the story, I realized that I knew this author, Ernest J. Gaines. I read A Gathering of Old Men and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. They were good stories and so is A Lesson Before Dying.
The story begins with the trial of Jefferson. He was with two men who killed a shopkeeper. They were killed and Jefferson was caught and put on trial and sentenced to die. His lawyer, to try to arouse sympathy in the jury referred to Jefferson as a "hog." The lawyer said that Jefferson didn't have the intelligence to plan a robbery. He didn't know what he was doing.
What justice would there be to take this life? Justice, gentlemen? why, I would just as
soon put a hog in the electric chair as this.
Even though it was understood that the lawyer called Jefferson a hog to convince the jury that Jefferson wasn't responsible for what happened. It didn't work with the jury. Worse, Jefferson took it to heart. His family, godmother and aunt were deeply offended.
The godmother and aunt enlist Grant Wiggins help in bucking Jefferson up. He has to die but they want him to die like a man. They want Jefferson to understand that he is a man.
Grant doesn't want to do it but feels obligated morally. Even though Grant isn't a church goer, he is an unwitting tool in God's plan for Jefferson. The pastor and friend of the godmother and aunt, the Reverend Ambrose doesn't seem to get anywhere with Jefferson. Everyone, somehow has an affect. Grant has his class of young children visit Grant. Neighbors visit. Constant visitors are Grant and the Reverend. Watching all this is Paul, the officer in charge of Jefferson.
All these people praying and befriending Jefferson do affect a change. He no longer thinks he's a hog. People don't love hogs like they love a man. So once Jefferson believed himself a worthy human being, then he could walk to the electric chair like a man.