The story is told from a first-person narrator (Grant Wiggins) and takes place in the 1940's in different places in Louisiana:

Esref Göregen, Marius Gross

Characterization of Jefferson

Jefferson is a 21 year old man, who is wrongly accused of murder of a shopkeeper and sentenced to death on the electric chair.
He is tall and skinny, has clean cropped hair and big brown eyes. He likes cakes, ice cream, and candy in general. His favorite activities are listening to music and hunting with his friend Gable.
In the beginning of the novel, Jefferson is described as a serious, sentimental and simple man who is working on the plantations since he was six. Considering himself powerless in a society, which is controlled by Whites, who discriminate and exploit black people, he accepted his destiny very early, and always worked without resistance.
After the lawsuit, he becomes very secluded and grumpy and internalizes the words of his lawyer, who compared him to a mindless hog during the lawsuit. Awaiting his death desperately in his cell, he even refuses to speak with his family. At this time he considers his life as completed, and doesn't think he can make a change in his personality before his execution.
This changes with Grant Wiggins's lessons, as Jefferson becomes more confident and dignified. Jefferson is a symbol for oppression and discrimination of black people in the USA.

Johannes Oberle, Itohan Adams

Characterization of Grant Wiggins

Grant Wiggins, a young, dark skinned man, is the narrator and the protagonist of “A lesson before dying”. He grew up in Louisiana with his aunt Lou, who lived close to the local cane-plantations. In his childhood, Grant had been threatened badly by his teachers and his familiar faces. After the school he went to the college, but returned to his hometown afterwards.
Now Grant Wiggins is in his mid-twenties, works as teacher and is in love with Vivian Baptiste. The young pair wants one day to marry and start over new, but as Vivian is still married and has children, they can't.
Causing of the racism that Grant experienced in his childhood, he is still full of hatred and rage and uses his position as a teacher to compensate those feelings. The protagonist is well educated and doesn't support racism, but he knows that he cannot change the society. In his hometown, Grant is in a kind of a mental prison, because he wants to escape this community, but he doesn't want to leave Vivian. He begs her to come with him, what doesn't fit to his egoistic character. From time to time Grant Wiggins gets kinder and isn't as angry with community as in the beginning of the novel.

David Bruhm, Jonas Alker

Characterization of Tante Lou

Tante Lou is Grant Wiggins's aunt. She took and raised him, when his parents moved to California. She really wants Grant to help Jefferson. Her workplace was the kitchen of the Pichot family. Tante Lou used to work as a cook, but she's in retirement now. Also, whenever she's a victim of racism, she gets help in her hard life in the local church, because she's deeply religious. Additionally, her family and her best friend, Miss Emma, who fully supports Tante Lou's wish of Grant making Jefferson to die like a man, take care of her.

Dominik Fieger

Characterization of Vivian Baptiste

Vivian Baptiste is a teacher living and working in Bayonne and Grant Wiggins's girlfriend. She's a very attractive woman at the same age as Grant. Vivian is tall with a height of five feet (about 1.75 m) and has soft light brown skin and greenish brown eyes. Her face is also pretty with high cheekbones, full lips and full nostrils, framed by long black hair which she often wears in a bun.
Originally, she's from Free LaCove and after achieving her college degree she went to the Xavier University where she met her later dark-skinned husband. Although her parents didn't agree with their love they married and got two children. Now her marriage is broken and she's waiting for the divorce.
Vivian loves her job as a teacher and wants to help her students and improve their situation. In spite of Grant, she challenges and encourages them and gives them hope for the future. In school, she teaches French. She's very active, gracious and community-minded. Furthermore, she's religious and regularly goes to church.
She and Grant are very much in love and he keeps telling her that he loves her. They can only meet when Vivian has someone to look after her children. They often meet in Grant's favorite bar in Bayonne. Grant tells her his problems and she always listens to him. She never interrupts him and gives him some advice. Although Grant doesn't seem to give the same back to her, she never complains and totally supports him. Vivian is the only person Grant can really talk to openly about all his problems and his thoughts.
Vivian is also very dutiful because she always reminds Grant of his duties as a teacher and family member. He wants to go away with her but she keeps telling him that it's important to stay there because they are needed. She is also sure that Grant loves the people there although Grant doesn't show it and admit it to himself. Vivian would like to leave with Grant and start a new life somewhere else but her duties hold her back. She never moans about her life and situation because she loves life and seems to want to make the best out of it. In spite of Grant who always wants to run away from his problems Vivian faces them and also searches for a solution.
Vivian is also important for the novel because she convinces Grant that it's right to teach Jefferson and that he should do it.
Grant really needs her not only because he loves her but also because she satisfies his needs for sex and conversation. She gives him the backup he needs and although he never reciprocates she loves and stays with him.
All in all Vivian Baptiste is a strong black woman who is a much better teacher and person than Grant because she is so selfless and helpful. She probably would be more able to teach Jefferson to die with dignity than Grant.

Sabrina Laue, Eva Anheier

Characterization of Miss Emma

Emma Glenn, also called Miss Emma, is a little chubby 70 year old woman. Her husband, Mr. Oscar, died a few years ago. Miss Emma is a friend of Jefferson`s aunt Lou. She is a good cook and she used to cook for Henri Pichot`s family for many years. The solicitous Miss Emma always helped other families and that`s a reason why she hasn`t had an easy life. In addition, she is very religious.
Miss Emma is Jefferson`s godmother and because of the death of Jefferson`s parents she raised him. That`s why the two have a really close relationship. Jefferson`s nannan is a controlled, strong-willed and dignified woman who persecutes her aims with persistence. She fights for Jefferson`s rights and if he really has to die, she wants him to die as a real man. Because of her religion, she thinks god wants to punish her with Jefferson`s death penalty. She sends a priest to Jefferson in prison who shall forgive him his sins. If her godchild dies, she is convinced to see him again in heaven.
Miss Emma is a very intelligent character, because she planned that Wiggins shall teach Jefferson in prison from the beginning of his imprisonment. She trusts her godchild because she loves him so much.

Vivian Sauer, Jana Linder