A Lesson Before Dying: Mr. Wiggins

Ryan Strassburger

In A Lesson Before Dying, Mr. Grant Wiggins' life crises were the center
of the story. Although he was supposed to make Jefferson into a man, he himself
became more of one as a result. Not to say that Jefferson was not in any way
transformed from the "hog" he was into an actual man, but I believe this story
was really written about Mr. Wiggins.

Mr. Wiggins improved as a person greatly in this book, and that helped
his relationships with other people for the most part. At the start of the
book, he more or less hated Jefferson, but after a while he became his friend
and probably the only person Jefferson felt he could trust. The turning point
in their relationship was the one visit in which Jefferson told Mr. Wiggins that
he wanted a gallon of ice cream, and that he never had enough ice cream in his
whole life. At that point Jefferson confided something in Mr. Wiggins,
something that I didn't see Jefferson doing often at all in this book.

"I saw a slight smile come to his face, and it was not a bitter smile.
Not bitter at all"; this is the first instance in which Jefferson breaks his
somber barrier and shows emotions. At that point he became a man, not a hog. As
far as the story tells, he never showed any sort of emotion before the shooting
or after up until that point. A hog can't show emotions, but a man can. 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 begins becoming 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, and honest and just jury would have
found him innocent due to the lack of evidence.

It wasn't really clear what sort of situation Mr. Wiggins was in
regarding money, but he could not have been too well off because he needed to
borrow money to purchase a radio for Jefferson, and he commented about the
Rainbow Cafe: "When I was broke, I could always get a meal and pay later, and
the same went for the bar." I suppose he had enough money to get by, but not
much extra. As the book progresses he probably had less money to work with due
to the money he was spending to buy the radio, comic books, and other items
for Jefferson.

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 humans 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 more
or less forced him to do 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