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A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

A Lesson Before Dying (1993)

by Ernest J. Gaines

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3,706791,413 (3.83)116
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Not only is the story set in the 1940s, the writing style also seems to originate from that era similar to The Lilies of the Field or Raisin in the Sun. Perhaps these connections only reflect how sparse is literature about race relations in that era.
While the ending is important in giving a role model to Black youth, it seems too far fetched that Grant would be saying that he depends on this uneducated teen to be his role model for how to act like a man. Yet, as Finding Makeba depicts, that is still a lesson black men struggle with. ( )
  juniperSun | Mar 28, 2016 |
What an extraordinarily moving book. I read it in one day, and sobbed for the last 30 pages. Grant Wiggins learns much from Jefferson, when he is supposed to be teaching him. They both learn something about what it means to "be a man."

I rank this book among the best I have ever read. It will become a classic of American literature. In my opinion, this is the current generation's "To Kill a Mockingbird" - a modern-day classic. Our book club could not stop talking about it.

I first read it in March 1998; in May 2002 I recommended it to another book group with similar results.
And I read it again in Sept 2007 just because I love the work so much.

Highly recommend this work. ( )
  BookConcierge | Mar 5, 2016 |
Sorry, got bored. ( )
  MahanaU | Feb 26, 2016 |
The setting is a plantation in Louisiana in the 1940s. A young black man named Jefferson is at the wrong place at the wrong time during a robbery and is sentenced to death. During the trial, the defense attorney attempts to convince the jury he’s not guilty by emphasizing Jefferson’s ignorance and comparing him to a hog. His godmother wants him to learn to be a man before he dies and asks the local black schoolteacher, Grant, to visit Jefferson in jail to teach him. Grant, who is in the middle of his own existential crisis, doesn’t really want to help, but he isn’t given much choice. During Grant’s visits to the jail, both he and Jefferson learn some things about life for blacks in the Deep South.

I read this book a few years ago and remember not being impressed with it. When the company I work for decided to start a book club with this as the first selection, I was less than thrilled when I was “volun-told” that I’d be participating. On rereading it, I’m still not impressed. The concept is good, but it was badly done. There was no subtlety; I felt like the author was hitting me over the head with his point the whole time. The character development was weak. All of a sudden both Grant and Jefferson do about-faces in their thinking without a real reason for it. Also, the jump from first person to omniscient narrator at the end felt awkward to me. In spite of these issues, there are a lot of good themes for a book group to discuss, but I think the book would be better suited to beginners in literary analysis because everything is so simplified. ( )
  AmandaL. | Jan 16, 2016 |
A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines; (4 1/2*)

A Lesson Before Dying is set in a small town during the 1940s. It is the story of two black men; one wrongly accused of murder and the other convinced by family to share knowledge and pride with the accused during his last days before being executed. It is a wonderful story about the friendship created between two black men in a racially charged society.
Grant Wiggins has returned to his home town to teach children in a village school and while he is in the process of making his own life changing decision, his aunt & the convicted man's grandmother persuade him to visit Jefferson in jail. With all of his own problems in mind he visits and attempts to help Jefferson. During the story the author shows the many difficulties and problems that Grant faces as a black man and the author expresses this in the novel through Grant's thoughts.
The weekly visits give Grant a chance to share some knowledge with Jefferson but he is also reluctant to get involved in a situation he has no control over nor any patience for. His aunt and Jefferson's grandmother have coerced him to go but he doesn't realize how much this will help him. He is taken through his midlife crisis partly by the experience and views on life he received from Jefferson. So he gains as well as gives.
The plot of this story revolves around the two main characters who are completely different in every way but who come together because of family ties. The novel is a great story about life's struggles and the problems that we all go through in day to day living. It conveys morals, values and a sense of humanity that are noble and should be used by all of us in life.
Gaines creates a setting of cruelty and prejudice throughout the events in the story and despite this the two men forge a bond and together find a way to overcome the power of racism in their lives. Without each other they would not be able to cope with the events of their lives.
I very highly recommend this book to every reader out there. ( )
1 vote rainpebble | Nov 17, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375702709, Paperback)

Oprah Book Club® Selection, September 1997: In a small Cajun community in 1940s Louisiana, a young black man is about to go to the electric chair for murder. A white shopkeeper had died during a robbery gone bad; though the young man on trial had not been armed and had not pulled the trigger, in that time and place, there could be no doubt of the verdict or the penalty.

"I was not there, yet I was there. No, I did not go to the trial, I did not hear the verdict, because I knew all the time what it would be..." So begins Grant Wiggins, the narrator of Ernest J. Gaines's powerful exploration of race, injustice, and resistance, A Lesson Before Dying. If young Jefferson, the accused, is confined by the law to an iron-barred cell, Grant Wiggins is no less a prisoner of social convention. University educated, Grant has returned to the tiny plantation town of his youth, where the only job available to him is teaching in the small plantation church school. More than 75 years after the close of the Civil War, antebellum attitudes still prevail: African Americans go to the kitchen door when visiting whites and the two races are rigidly separated by custom and by law. Grant, trapped in a career he doesn't enjoy, eaten up by resentment at his station in life, and angered by the injustice he sees all around him, dreams of taking his girlfriend Vivian and leaving Louisiana forever. But when Jefferson is convicted and sentenced to die, his grandmother, Miss Emma, begs Grant for one last favor: to teach her grandson to die like a man.

As Grant struggles to impart a sense of pride to Jefferson before he must face his death, he learns an important lesson as well: heroism is not always expressed through action--sometimes the simple act of resisting the inevitable is enough. Populated by strong, unforgettable characters, Ernest J. Gaines's A Lesson Before Dying offers a lesson for a lifetime.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:15 -0400)

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From the author of, A Gathering of Old Men and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman comes a deep and compassionate novel. Grant Wiggins, a college-educated man returns to 1940s Cajun, he visits and forms an unlikely bond with Jefferson, a young Black man convicted of murder and sentenced to death, for a crime he didn't commit. Together they come to understand the heroism of resisting. Best Books for Young Teen Readers. In the 1940s in rural Louisiana, an uneducated African American man is sentenced to die for a crime he was incapable of committing.… (more)

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