A Lesson Before Dying

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The defense attorney Character Analysis

The white attorney who is charged with the task of defending Jefferson from execution for the crime of killing Alcee Gropé. The attorney paints a picture of Jefferson that Grant, Emma, and Reverend Ambrose spend the remainder of the novel refuting: he calls Jefferson an animal and a “hog,” and tries to convince the jury to spare his life on the grounds that it’s immoral to kill a mere animal. For much of the novel, Jefferson believes the defense attorney’s words, calling himself a hog and behaving like one.

The defense attorney Quotes in A Lesson Before Dying

The A Lesson Before Dying quotes below are all either spoken by The defense attorney or refer to The defense attorney . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racism Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of A Lesson Before Dying published in 1994.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Why, I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this.

Related Characters: The defense attorney (speaker), Jefferson
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Jefferson's defense attorney offers an incredibly cynical argument in a last-ditch effort to keep Jefferson from being sentenced to the electric chair for the crime of killing a shopkeeper. Basically, the attorney is saying: "He's guilty, but he's not even human, so it's not right to execute him for the crime he committed." In the end, the attorney's arguments have no effect on the result of the case: Jefferson is sentenced to death, setting in motion the events of the novel. As Gaines shows us later on, Jefferson is deeply traumatized by his own attorney's words: he comes to think of himself as a mere "hog," unworthy of any love or respect.

It is crucial for us to notice that Jefferson's own defense attorney, not his prosecutor, is the one who makes such a racist argument and has such a negative impact on Jefferson's self-esteem. This suggests an even bigger point: during this era, the institutions that are supposed to support all Americans, such as courts, schools, etc., actually wind up keeping Black Americans in an oppressed state and suppressing their dignity.

In general, this is the single most important quote in the novel; the one to which Grant and Jefferson will keep returning. Grant's project is to convince Jefferson that the attorney is wrong: i.e., Jefferson is more valuable than a hog, because he is a human being with dignity, self-respect, and responsibility. Furthermore, by establishing the depth of racism in Louisiana at this time, the quote reminds us of the deeply-ingrained prejudices that Grant and Jefferson are fighting against.


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The defense attorney Character Timeline in A Lesson Before Dying

The timeline below shows where the character The defense attorney appears in A Lesson Before Dying. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Racism Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
The defense attorney argues that Jefferson was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He wasn’t involved... (full context)
Chapter 2
Education Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
...with the exception of Jefferson, who called her “Nannan.” Miss Emma tells Grant that the defense attorney called Jefferson a hog. She tells Grant that she wants him to teach Jefferson to... (full context)