A Lesson Before Dying

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Analyze the significance of the word hog. Discuss Miss Emma's pain and primary concern.

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Although Jefferson’s attorney makes several strong, logical points that show that Jefferson could not have murdered Alcee Gropé, he instead focuses his defense on the fact that Jefferson is too stupid to be worth executing. This degrading argument inspires Miss Emma to have Grant teach Jefferson that he is “a man,” not a hog. The comparison of a human to an animal here is the first of many in the novel, and Grant senses that this is a means by which white people dehumanize African-Americans and make racism more palatable.

"What justice would there be to take this life? Justice, gentlemen? Why, I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this.”