A Lesson Before Dying

A Lesson Before Dying

Book - 1993
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Random House, Inc.
From the author of A Gathering of Old Men and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman comes a deep and compassionate novel. A young man who returns to 1940s Cajun country to teach visits a black youth on death row for a crime he didn't commit. Together they come to understand the heroism of resisting.

Baker & Taylor
In 1948 Louisiana, a young teacher is asked to impart some of his own pride and learning to a young Black man awaiting execution, only to come face to face with his own cynicism and hopelessness

Blackwell North Amer
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 have informed his previous, widely praised novels.

& Taylor

In 1948 Louisiana, a young teacher is asked to impart some of his own pride and learning to a young black man awaiting execution, only to come face to face with his own cynicism and hopelessness. By the author of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman. 32,500 first printing. Tour.

Publisher: New York : A. A. Knopf, 1993.
ISBN: 9780679414773
Branch Call Number: GAI
Characteristics: 256 p. ; 22 cm.


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Jan 30, 2017

A very powerful book regarding African American life in post WW2 US. Thought provoking and informative.

Jul 06, 2016

Absolutely phenomenal and beautiful. I finished this book in two days. Extraordinarily simple but nonetheless a moving story of two men living against expectations who try to meet in the middle.

Jun 05, 2015

This is an 11th grade curriculum choice in Millard Public Schools.

May 09, 2015

Although this fictional book takes place in Pre-Civil Rights age Louisiana, people today will relate to the hardships, conflict and inspiration all of the characters experience. It is no wonder this book was an Oprah Book Club selection in the 1990s. Even more important today than it was years ago due to the mass incarceration of African-American males in the United States.

Chapel_Hill_KenMc Jan 08, 2015

A modern classic, Gaines's spare prose details the heartbreaking last months of an uneducated young black man in 1940s rural Louisiana. Charged with awakening the youth's humanity in the days before he faces the electric chair, the local schoolteacher must confront his own weaknesses and failures before he can spark an emotional and intellectual awakening. Gaines confronts challenging issues of what makes us human, and what makes us inhuman.

51anne Feb 09, 2013

I enjoyed the story and the writing style of Mr. Gaines. He was able to make the reader feel the anger and frustration of an educated black man living in America during the 1940's.

Jul 18, 2012

A Lesson Before Dying tells the story of a schoolteacher who is asked to visit a man wrongly accused and sentence to death simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It reveals the strength of character and community, as well as showing what it takes to resist oppression while maintaining your pride.

AmandaVollmershausen May 09, 2012

I read this book as part of my grade 11 university English course, and frankly found it a bit dry. It's set in the mid 1900's in Louisiana and focuses on the racism prevalent. The text offers a lot of symbolism, but has really no climax or literary suspense. It has a good message and is an interesting story, but I wouldn't recommend it.

Oct 01, 2011

Gaines' novel is a rich portrayal of racial segregation in the late 1940s United States (Louisiana). He sets the scene early by talking of churches and schools being separated by colour, and how this disparity between the groups leads to a (an innocent?) black man being sent to die by electrocution for killing a white man. Gaines has choosen an interesting metaphor for racism by using the characters of a black school teacher (education) and an uneducated man whose fate is to be decided by others (ie. whites). Note: there is not much talk about the actual execution, for those of you who are squeamish. (Oct 2007)

Nov 04, 2007

Oprah's book club.


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Jun 05, 2015

ckaldahl thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over

Jul 24, 2014

Ferociousdog thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over


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AmandaVollmershausen May 09, 2012

This novel follows the events after a verdict is handed out to an uneducated black man on shoddy evidence and very slim motives. The implication is that the verdict was racist and the rest of the book explores that theme. During his trial, the man, (Jefferson) is compared to a hog. The rest of the novel is about the development of his character as Grant, a cynical black schoolteacher teaches him that he is just as brave and valuable as any of the white folk. The novel is a heartfelt testimony that centres around the hopelessness of unjust discrimination and a person's self worth.


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Jul 24, 2014

"Called him a hog" by Grant's aunt


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