A Lesson Before Dying By Ernest J. Gaines

1094 Words Sep 9th, 2015 5 Pages
A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines, Vintage Contemporaries ©1993, 256pp.
In his poignant and moving novel, A Lesson Before Dying, Ernest J. Gaines asks us questions that reignite our own quest for the meaning of compassion. What do you teach a man condemned to die? What lesson might be useful in the final month of a man’s life? Is there a futility that we succumb to when we accept the judgment of men? These are the questions faced by Grant Wiggins, a young, black school teacher who has returned to his small Louisiana hometown following his college education. Persuaded by his aunt to counsel Jefferson, also a young, black man who has been sentenced to die for an armed robbery in which he was an unwitting bystander. Not to exonerate him, but to teach him. To give him something to call his own before he leaves this earth: knowledge.
Set in 1940s rural Louisiana, the novel is framed in a sociopolitical structure that is all too familiar and disturbingly simple: racial class structure that places Black Americans firmly under the shoes of their White counterparts. The setting was a deft choice by Gaines to illustrate his central theme, but also a necessary one. This story, set in a contemporary prison, Jefferson’s character would stretch credibility beyond the point of acceptance, making Grant’s task virtually impossible. The simplicity built into the racial divide in the 1940s the only one and makes possible everything that follows.
The story is simple: Jefferson chose…
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