In addition to the kindling the old men bring to the church to warm the schoolhouse through the winter, wood makes one other symbolically loaded appearance in A Lesson Before Dying
. When Grant
in the dayroom, accompanied by Tante Lou
, Reverend Ambrose
, and Miss Emma
, he tells Jefferson that he must become a better man, and compares the process of self-improvement to that of polishing a rough piece of wood. While the wood may seem ugly and splintered at first, the woodworker’s care and attention reveals the beautiful object trapped beneath a rough exterior. In this analogy, we can assume that Grant is the woodworker and Jefferson is the rough piece of wood. It’s important to keep in mind that the woodworker in the analogy doesn’t add anything to the wood; by the same logic, Grant doesn’t give Jefferson new information about good and evil. Instead, Grant reminds Jefferson what Jefferson already has: the ability to be courageous and moral, for the sake of Miss Emma and for his entire community. Polishing a rough piece of wood, then, represents the process of education and self-discovery that Jefferson embarks on in Gaines’s novel.