A Lesson Before Dying

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A. A. Knopf, 1993 - Fiction - 256 pages
1298 Reviews
In his first novel in ten years, Ernest Gaines, the highly acclaimed author of the best-selling The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, brings us a wrenching story of death and identity in a small Cajun Louisiana community in the late 1940s. A young black named Jefferson is a reluctant party in a shoot-out in a liquor store in which the three other men involved are all killed, including the white store owner. Jefferson, the only survivor, is accused of murder. At the trial, the essence of the defense is that the accused, a lowly form of existence lacking even a modicum of intelligence, is incapable of premeditated murder. His lawyer argues: "Why, I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this." But Jefferson is condemned to death. Grant Wiggins, who left his small rural black community to go to university, has returned to the plantation school to teach children whose lives promise to be not much better than Jefferson's. But he wonders whether he has the will to take off north or west like so many before him who knew it was the only way to climb out of a centuries-old rut. He is grappling with his own situation when Jefferson's godmother and Grant's aunt persuade Grant to impart something of himself, of his learning and pride, to Jefferson before his death - to prove the lawyer wrong. A Lesson Before Dying tells the story of these two men who, through no choice of their own, come together and form a bond in the realization that sometimes simply choosing to resist the expected is an act of heroism. Ernest Gaines brings to the novel the same rich sense of place, the same deep understanding of the human psyche, and the same compassion for a people and their struggle that haveinformed his previous, widely praised novels.

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Great book, great writer. - Goodreads
Unlikeable protagonist, bland writing. - Goodreads
A very powerful ending. - Goodreads
Starts of slow and then picks up pace. - Goodreads
Clear, moving prose. - Goodreads
The writing was tedious. - Goodreads

Review: A Lesson Before Dying

User Review  - Lizzie - Goodreads

Great theme and purpose but the beginning was very slow. As the end neared, it gradually got more exciting and climatic. Read full review

Review: A Lesson Before Dying

User Review  - Adrianna - Goodreads

Adrianna Porcaro Ms. Lentino Psychology and Literature September 8th, 2015 A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines has taught me a lesson I needed to learn before I die. This book has taught me the ... Read full review


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About the author (1993)

Ernest J. Gaines was born on a plantation in Pointe Coupee Parish, near New Roads, Louisiana, which is the Bayonne of all his fictional works.  His previous books include A Gathering of Old Men, In My Father's House, A Long Day in November, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Bloodline, Of Love and Dust, and Catherine Carmier. He divides his time between San Francisco and the University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette, where he is writer-in-residence.

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