A Lesson Before Dying is a novel by Ernest J. Gaines that was first published in Read a Plot Overview of the entire book or a chapter by chapter Summary and. Sign me up to get more news about Fiction books. . A Lesson Before Dying won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, the most recent of. Gaines's first novel in a decade may be his crowning achievement. In this restrained but eloquent narrative, the author of The Autobiography of Miss Jane.
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A Lesson Before Dying book. Read reviews from the world's largest community for readers. A Lesson Before Dying is set in a small Cajun community in. A Lesson Before Dying Is Ernest J. Gaines' eighth novel, published in While it is a Find sources: "A Lesson Before Dying" – news · newspapers · books. A Lesson Before Dying: A Novel (Vintage Contemporaries) and millions of other books are available for instant access. A Lesson Before Dying (Oprah's Book Club) Paperback – Enhanced, September 28, So begins Grant Wiggins, the narrator of Ernest J. Gaines's powerful exploration.
Zeebra Books Gaines's first novel in a decade may be his crowning achievement. In this restrained but eloquent narrative, the author of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman again addresses some of the major issues of race and identity in our time. The story of two African American men struggling to attain manhood in a prejudiced society, the tale is set in Bayonne, La. It concerns Jefferson, a mentally slow, barely literate young man, who, though an innocent bystander to a shootout between a white store owner and two black robbers, is convicted of murder, and the sophisticated, educated man who comes to his aid. When Jefferson's own attorney claims that executing him would be tantamount to killing a hog, his incensed godmother, Miss Emma, turns to teacher Grant Wiggins, pleading with him to gain access to the jailed youth and help him to face his death by electrocution with dignity. As complex a character as Faulkner's Quentin Compson, Grant feels mingled love, loyalty and hatred for the poor plantation community where he was born and raised. He longs to leave the South and is reluctant to assume the level of leadership and involvement that helping Jefferson would require.
Are these questions ever answered? If so, are they answered in ways that are anticipated or unanticipated? In Chapter 26, Vivian confronts Grant with a series of questions. What are the context and import of these questions? In Chapter 28, Jefferson asks Grant a series of questions. Do these questions have any answers? What does Grant learn—and with what effect on his outlook and sense of himself—about himself and others, about his community, about the nature of belief, and about the possibilities for change and improvement?
What ironies are implicit in the fact that the uneducated, deprived, barely literate, condemned victim becomes the focus of the dreams, aspirations, and desires of all the other characters? Does more than one lesson emerge in the course of the novel?
Why is the title of the book not "Lessons Before Dying"? Character and Conflict 1. What does each of these relationships reveal about Grant and about the racially structured society in which he lives?
Is there a protocol that requires the black characters to address certain requests to white women and others to white men?
Guidry of all that she has done for their families over the years? Can this chapter be seen as a summing up of the main themes and the main action of the novel?
Do Tante Lou, Miss Emma, and Vivian represent positive qualities that are exclusive to the black women of the quarter? Do any black men in the novel share these qualities? Why do Miss Emma and Tante Lou insist that Grant visit Jefferson in the parish jail and teach him how to die like a man?
Does his treatment of them change in the course of the novel? At the end of Chapter 12, Vivian offers to Grant an explanation of his not "running away. What does her explanation reveal about her and about her understanding of Grant and of his situation? What conflicts are at work in the novel? How do they provide a context for, or shape the decisions and actions of, the characters? What are the terms and implications of the conflict between what Jefferson wants before he dies and what each of the others wants for and of him?
In Chapter 27, what does the conversation between Reverend Ambrose and Grant reveal about each and about the lives of their people? Is he justified in lying to his congregation, as he admits he has done over the years?
What levels of meaning and import are established in this dialogue? Setting and Society 1. What details does Gaines provide to establish the identity and significance of the quarter and its history, the plantation, Bayonne, and the surrounding county?
What details reveal white expectations concerning blacks, black expectations concerning whites, and the resulting behavior of individuals in each group? Citing specific characters or groups of characters as illustrations, can you map the society of the novel? How is the social world of the novel structured? What and who determines that structure? How do various blacks and whites claim, sanction, and enforce these social strata?
In Chapter 6, why does Pichot keep Grant waiting for "nearly two and a half hours"?
Why does Grant wait? What does this scene reveal about the relationships among blacks and whites in Louisiana, the South, and the nation in the late s? How does Gaines provide a sense of the lives and work of the people of the quarter, of their living conditions, and of their activities? What is the range of their activities and their lives?
What elements of setting are emphasized? Are these elements presented in and of themselves, as contributing to a sense of setting, or in association with specific characters or groups of characters? What is the significance of the name of the Rainbow Club?
How does Gaines establish the unchanging ways of the two communities, black and white? What details of individual lives and of communal life contribute to the lack of change?
What has changed and what has not? Are there other instances in which Grant calls our attention to things that have changed or remained the same?
How does the layout of Bayonne correspond with that of the plantation and with the structure of society in St. Raphael Parish?
More than once, in connection with a kindness or word of understanding from Paul Bonin, Grant comments that Paul "had come from good stock. Themes and Motifs 1. What are the dominant themes of the novel and how are they worked out in terms of the characters and their words and actions?
How do these issues relate to the wider issue of capital punishment? What small, specific actions and expressions of the white characters reveal their deep-seated racism e. Identify as many as possible of the small, specific actions and expressions of the black characters that reveal their attitudes toward whites and their historically enforced conventions of behavior toward whites. What objects and actions seem to focus or crystallize this conflict [pp.
Is Grant a hero, according to the definition he gives Jefferson in Chapter 24 [pp.
Is Jefferson a hero? To what extent does Grant see Jefferson and his fate as an object lesson for the children? What kind of object lesson? In Chapter 8, Grant watches the sixth-grade boys saw and split wood and recalls his own experiences as a student.
What do his description and memories reveal about his own character and about life in the quarter over the years? What are the full meaning and implications of "the burden," which Grant recalls as being passed from Matthew Antoine to himself? In Chapter 17, both Paul and Grant say that they will do their duty in respect to Jefferson.
Does each of the other main characters have a clear notion of his or her duty? In Chapter 22, Grant notes that Jefferson looks at him "with an inner calmness now. In Chapter 24, Grant explains to Jefferson a "myth" that continues to determine life in their community. What is that "myth"? Are there references to it or instances of its operation elsewhere in the novel? How are the related themes of past-and-present and stasis-and-change bodied forth in the persons and actions of the characters?
What is needed to break from the past without incurring alienation or death?
Does Gaines resolve the thematic conflict between a respect for the past and the need to change and grow? To what extent is the theme of fathers and sons important? A little farther over, where another patch of cane was standing, tall and blue-green, you could see the leaves swaying softly from a breeze. The cemetery had lots of trees in it, pecans and oaks, and it was weedy too. My desk was a table, used as a collection table by the church on Sundays, and also used for the service of the Holy Sacrament.
Ventilation into the church was by way of the four windows on either side, and from the front and back doors.
There was a blackboard on the back wall. Behind my desk was the pulpit and the altar. This was my school. The school that he teaches in is the same place in which the town gathers on Sunday morning for praise and worship. Grant is continually challenged with the fact that he is an outsider in his place of work; he does not attend church with the rest of his settlement. Throughout the entire novel, this school is seen as a place of discrimination.
Segregated schools provide another example of racial persecution. Bayonne[ edit ] "Bayonne was a small town of about six thousand. Approximately three thousand five hundred whites; approximately two thousand five hundred colored. It was the parish seat for St.
The courthouse was there; so was the jail. There was a Catholic church uptown for whites; a Catholic church back of town for colored.
There was a white movie theater uptown; a colored movie theater back of town. There were two elementary schools uptown, one Catholic, one public, for whites; and the same back of town for colored. There was only one main street in Bayonne, and it ran along the St. Charles River. Jailhouse[ edit ] "We followed him down a long, dark corridor, passing offices with open doors, and bathrooms for white ladies and white men.
At the end of the corridor we had to go up a set of stairs. The stairs were made of steel. There were six steps, then a landing, a sharp turn, and another six steps.
Then we went through a heavy steel door to the area where the prisoners were quartered. The white prisoners were also on this floor, but in a separate section. I counted eight cells for black prisoners, with two bunks to each cell. Half of the cells were empty, the others had one or two prisoners. They reached their hands out between the bars and asked for cigarettes or money. Miss Emma. They asked me for money, and I gave them the change I had.
A single bulb hung over the center of the cell, and at the end opposite the door was a barred window, which looked out onto a sycamore tree behind the courthouse.
I could see the sunlight on the upper leaves.