LESSON BEFORE DYING
The title of this novel is imperative in understanding one of the major themes. The entire book focuses on Grant’s attempts to teach Jefferson a lesson. In order for Grant to be able to show Jefferson how to ‘become a man, he must himself understand the meaning. Symbolically, the butterfly towards the end of the novel is proof that both of these men have succeeded in their goals.
The great novel was later turned into a movie starring; Don Cheadle, Cicely Tyson, Mekhi Phifer, Irma P. Hall Brent Jennings. The plot of the movie revolves around a young man, convicted of a murder he did not commit, has been sentenced to die. Now it falls upon a teacher to enrich a life he cannot save and, in so doing, somehow redeem his own, by teaching one young man.
On a bright sunny day in 1948, Jefferson (Mekhi Phifer) sets off down the road to go catch some fish; by the end of the movie's opening sequence, he is the one who's been caught, and wrongly accused of the murder of a white shopkeeper. Racial inequality, at the time, is so pervasive in Louisiana that the white defense lawyer's argument at Jefferson's trial is that his client is not worthy of conviction: "You might just as soon put a hog in the 'lectric chair as this," he declares. Outraged by this statement, Jefferson's godmother (Irma P. Hall) does not want her godson to die as a hog. To this end she enlists the reluctant aid of the black community's teacher, Grant Wiggins (Don Cheadle), to teach him to "be a man." As Grant and Jefferson get to know each other (and the viewer gets to know them both), it's not clear which of them needs the lesson more.
As in Ernest J. Gaines's award-winning novel, the movie goes beyond the conflict between the races to explore divisions that splinter the black community: education versus religion, dark skin versus light. And, thanks to masterful performances from Cheadle and Phifer as well as a thoughtful screenplay by Amy Peacock, A Lesson Before Dying goes even further, examining what it means to be human and the responsibility a man has to himself and to his community.