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Wiggin's Transformation in A Lesson Before Dying Essay


In the novel, A Lesson Before Dying, By Ernest Gaines, the main character, Grant Wiggins gives a man meaning in his last days alive. Wiggins gives him a book to write his thoughts in, and helps him to realize that he is not a hog. He shows him that he is truly a good person, and that he should die with his head up, knowing that he led a worthy and honest life. Mr. Wiggins changed greatly through the story, from a cold school teacher to an open hearted and caring man. This helped his relationship with others as well as Jefferson. Through his changing, he became the one man that Jefferson could trust.

In a rural town in Louisiana in the late 1940's a poorly educated young black man, Jefferson, is in the wrong place at the wrong time: he is in a bar with two friends when they murder the white bartender. Jefferson is unfairly convicted of murder and sentenced to the electric chair by a white judge and jury. His defense lawyer, in an attempt to ward off the death sentence, labels him a "hog"--and it is this label that Jefferson's godmother wants disproved. She enlists the help of a plantation school teacher, Grant Wiggins, who at first isnt too keen on the idea of helping a crook. Wiggins agrees to talk with Jefferson only out of a sense of duty--he is an unhappy, angry man who dreamt of escape from his deprived childhood yet returned to his hometown after a university education to teach in the same one-room parish school he attended. Despite humiliation at the hands of the white sheriff, Jefferson's lack of cooperation, and his own sense of futility and uncertain faith, Wiggins forges a bond with Jefferson that leads to wisdom and courage for both. At first, Jefferson sees himself as a hog, and nothing but a hog.

It takes Wiggins much time and strength to convince him that he should live his last days with pride and dignity. Jefferson looks at the entire situation as his fault and will only do what Miss Emma and Tante Lou see fit for him to do. If thats what they want, Jefferson said. No, not what they want; what you want, says GrantIf thats what they want, Im gon die anyhow, says Jefferson.(p.135)

Wiggins begins his teaching as he has taught for years, which is not allowing it to change his life. However, as he continues to teach Jefferson, he not only speaks, but starts to listen and learn. Jefferson sees that he should let Wiggins into his life, and he starts to change. "I saw a slight smile come to his face, and it was not a bitter smile. Not bitter at all." A hog cant show emotions, but a man can. At this moment, he developed from a hog to a man. This is the focal point of the story, and from this point on, both men look at life completely differently. There is the epiphany of the story, where Mr. Wiggins realizes that the purpose of life is to help make the world a better place, and at that time he no longer minds visiting Jefferson and starts to become his friend.

Mr. Wiggins' relationship with his aunt declined in this story, although it was never very strong. His aunt treated him like he should be a hog and always obey, yet she wanted him to make a hog into a man. His aunt was not a very nice person, she would only show kindness towards people who shared many of her views, and therefore was probably a very hard person to get along with. The way Mr. Wiggins regarded his relationships most likely would have been different were he white. Mr. Wiggins feels, and rightly so, that several white men try to mock or make a fool of him throughout the story. This was a time of racial discrimination with much bigotry, so if the story took place in the present, it would be much different. In fact, there probably would have not even been a book because in the modern day, an honest and just jury would have found him innocent due to the lack of evidence.

Mr. Wiggins seemed to be well respected by the community, and he felt superior to other African Americans because he was far more educated than they were. That makes Mr. Wiggins guilty of not practicing what he preaches, although Jefferson probably made it clearer to him that the less intelligent are still human beings with feelings. At the start of the book, Mr. Wiggins did not understand this. He went to visit Jefferson because Miss Emma and his aunt pressured him into doing it. He really had no motivation except that he would be shunned by his aunt if he did not comply.

The whole process of Mr. Wiggins' development and the plot of this story both spawn from the crimes of two characters with no other relevance to the story. After the police found Jefferson at the liquor store with the dead bodies all around, he was of course taken to trial and the times being what they were, he was convicted with very little doubt that he would be found innocent. Miss Emma, his godmother was afraid that he would die a hog and have lived a meaningless life. She wanted him "Not to crawl to the white man, but to get up and walk to him at the end."

At first, Mr. Wiggins was not very concerned about Jefferson He just wanted to pass the time he had to spend with him. Before long, he began to think of what it would feel like to be a dead man, and what he could do to make the time Jefferson had left be the best it could for him. This was the greatest achievement Mr. Wiggins accomplished in the entire book. He managed to be able to have pity upon Jefferson without empathy. After the point in which he discussed the ice cream and the radio with Jefferson, and Jefferson admitted for the first time that he was more than a hog, Mr. Wiggins truly cared. Mr. Wiggins developed greatly during the course of this story, along with other characters featured in the story. Vivian met new people and increased the quality of her relationship with Mr. Wiggins, Miss Emma finally got to see someone stand for her, Tante Lou learned that she had a decent nephew after all, and Jefferson got off of his four legs and stood.

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