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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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3,535711,495 (3.84)110
  1. 30
    To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (rarm)
  2. 00
    They Tell Me of a Home by Daniel Black (greytone)
    greytone: The educated male on a prodigal quest...

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Showing 1-5 of 68 (next | show all)
Black experience
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jim crow
  josephla | Jul 18, 2015 |
RGG: Set in 1940's Louisiana, this is a story of a young man's response to another man's impending execution on death row. A wonderful companion to To Kill a Mockingbird, or even Walter Dean Myer's Monster. A couple brief sexually explicit passages.
  rgruberhighschool | May 6, 2015 |
The premise of this book is promising. 21 year old Jefferson in 1940’s Louisiana town was in the wrong place at the wrong time, caught up in a botched up robbery, convicted of murder, and sentenced to death. Mocked as being no better than a hog, his godmother, Emma, convinces Grant Wiggins, the local teacher, to visit him in jail and teach him to be a man before dying. From Emma, “I don’t want them to kill no hog. I want a man to go that chair, on his own two feet.” From Grant: “…What do I say to him? Do I know what a man is? Do I know how a man is supposed to die? I’m still trying to find out how a man should live. Am I supposed to tell someone how to die who has never lived?”

“Majestic”, “Moving”, “Richly Compassionate” are some of the words used in the published reviews of this book. I was ready with tissues and be walloped by a flood of emotions from this tragic tale. Instead, I was “seriously??” – with one lifted eyebrow. Jefferson is due to be electrocuted in weeks, and Grant, his reluctant teacher, is worried about his performance in bed! I suppose it is kinda hard (or perhaps limp) to make sweet loving with an image of an anger-filled, in-pain boy occupying your mind. Argh, I wanted to punch him. Where is Atticus Finch when I need him?!? I was already thinking the book flowed less inspiring than anticipated when that silly plot line came into play. Why, oh, why?

So, what went wrong? I felt Gaines covered too many topics without covering anything in depth. There’s the vicious cycle of the black men not getting ahead, running away, or becoming broken. Grant too is a conflicted man who can’t decide to stay or go, and get this – he hates teaching, but that’s all he can do as an educated man in the South. There’s Grant and Vivian, where Vivian is in a separation with children, i.e. complex dependencies in the 1940’s. The entire town is religious vs. atheist Grant. Etc., etc. With all this hoopla, the book has limited pages on the actual interactions between Jefferson and Grant. When Jefferson turns the corner, it was too easy. Grant inserted some elements of understanding/friendship to Jefferson and later shared his own vulnerability; that was really it. Add the prerequisite cast of bigoted characters and more sub-plotlines, bunch of guilt-flinging women, a jealous Reverend Ambrose, and it’s a crock pot of unlikeable characters in a ho-hum novel. Sorry Oprah, I call B.S.

Favorite Character: Paul Bonin, the young deputy at the jail – a white man before his time in the South
Least Favorite Character: Too many to choose from, so let’s say Grant.

One Quote:

On poverty and community:
Loaning Grant $10 with “Here.” “…It was the kind of “here” that let you know this was hard-earned money but, also, that you needed it more than she did, and the kind of “here” that said she wished you had it and didn’t have to borrow it from her, but since you did not have it, and she did, then “here” it was, with a kind of love. It was the kind of “here” that asked the question, When will all this end? When will a man not have to struggle to have money to get what he needs “here”? When will a man be able to live without having to kill another man “here”?” ( )
1 vote varwenea | Apr 3, 2015 |
I'm a person who enjoys books with deeper meanings than what is written, and this book hit the target. It was a required reading, but I'm glad that I read it. ( )
  hockeyzc58 | Jul 16, 2014 |
I really enjoyed reading this book. It delves into self-image and how even one person around us can really make a difference in someone else's life. Jefferson, a black man, is falsely convicted of murder of a white man by 12 white jurors. He is convicted to death by electric chair. As a poor black man, he has no dignity or honor. Even during the trial, his defense attorney calls him a "hog". While awaiting death in jail, Miss Emma wants to break the cycle of black slaves for 300 years and running from the white people. She enlists the help of a local schoolteacher, Grant and asks him to teach him that he is not a hog and works with him to improve his self-image so that he can die with dignity and honor like a man. ( )
  berthacummins | Mar 19, 2014 |
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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)

(see all 6 descriptions)

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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