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.
“I probably would not have noticed it at all had not a butterfly, a yellow butterfly with dark spots like ink dots on its wings, not lit there. What had brought it there? …I watched it fly over the ditch and down into the quarter, I watched it until I could not see it anymore. Yes, I told myself. It is finally over.”
At this point Grant realizes that Jefferson really did learn a ‘lesson before dying.’ When he says “It is finally over,” he is not only referring to Jefferson’s life, but also that his cowardly nature is “finally over.” He has once and for all taken a stand for what he believes in. This insures that he, too, has benefited from this entire experience. Jefferson’s life was sacrificed in order for the white people in the community to gain a better understanding of the value of the black members of society.