A Lesson Before Dying
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A Lesson Before Dying

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  27,049 ratings  ·  1,753 reviews

A Lesson Before Dying, is set in a small Cajun community in the late 1940s. Jefferson, a young black man, is an unwitting party to a liquor store shoot out in which three men arekilled; the only survivor, he is convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Grant Wiggins, who left his hometown for the university, has returned to the plantation school to teach. As he struggles

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Paperback, 272 pages
Published January 30th 1996 by Random House, Inc. (first published December 1st 1993)
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Natalie
A lesson Before Dying is a very MOVING book. By reading most of the other reviews I'm sure everyone understands what this novel is about. I'm not positive if I would have appreciated this book in High School had I read it 10 years ago. I would like to thank Mr. Gaines for his lessons!! I've typed out a few powerful passages that moved me...There were more but these are just some I made sure I highlighted!

A hero is someone who something for other people. He does something that other men don't an...more
Rowena
“But let us say he was (guilty). Let us for a moment say he was (guilty). What justice would there be to take his life? Justice, gentlemen? Why, I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this.” - Ernest J. Gaines, A Lesson Before Dying.

Jefferson, an African-American man living in Louisiana in the late 1940s, is accused of a murder he didn’t commit. His lawyer uses the “hog” defence to get him off; however, this is unsuccessful and Jefferson is sentenced to death. Jefferson’s godmo...more
Trish
Sep 23, 2007 Trish rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
I still think about this book, even after reading it months ago. It’s a very simple story about two African-American men in 1940s Louisiana; one is a teacher and the other is a uneducated man waiting to be executed for a murder he witnessed, but didn’t commit. Both of them have given up hope for their lives, and for humanity in general. They live by the rules of the white majority, and both face a bleak future that’s beyond their ability to change. They are forced to spend time together, and eve...more
Jeanette
This is one of the best books I have ever read. I especially liked the development of Grant. I like the fact that he questions the problems and situations around him. He's not content to stay where he is in life and within himself.
Nonchoix
Ernest J. Gaines' 'A Lesson Before Dying' is a tedious read that has a good story, but ultimately falls flat mainly because of shallow characters and flat writing.

However, if you are looking for a short, quick-read novel about African-Americans and whites during racial segregation in the style of 'To Kill a Mockingbird', this might be your cup of tea. But ultimately, there is nothing enlightening, heart-wrenching, or poignant about this novel. Many of the issues lay within the main character, Gr...more
Moses Kilolo
Someday I will die. That I am sure of. But I do not think about it, at least, not consciously. I wouldn't want to think that a time will come when light, breath, and little breezes are things I will not experience. And never again see that little, oh, so beautiful smile in her eyes. But it will come, all the same. When? Tomorrow? Next year? Fifty, a hundred... well maybe say seventy years at the most.

That was a passing thought. Sad it was caught on record.

Well, think of a man who knows that he...more
Ann
I reread this book recently after many years and was surprised by nearly everything - but not how good it is. I had forgotten most details of the plot, the narrative structure, the characters, so it was almost like reading it for the first time; and the shock and power of the book hit me anew. This book, about a young black man condemned to die for being in the wrong place at the wrong time in the pre-Civil Rights era South and the young black teacher who is asked to teach him to die like a man,...more
Zinta
The older and, one hopes, wiser I grow, the more I admire and respect simplicity. Simplicity is not simple. Simplicity means clean lines, all that is unnecessary pared away. Simplicity means choosing that one golden word where ten would only confuse the issue. And, that one word can be clear and true.

Ernest J. Gaines is a master of simplicity. A Lesson Before Dying is clean and clear writing, descriptions that say just enough to evoke an entire scene with all senses engaged, all heart and mind...more
Mary Alice
Absolutely incredible book. I was on my couch sobbing during parts of it. And it takes a lot to make me shed tears. Great writing. Brings you right into the moment.
Richard
A black man is wrongly accused of a crime he did not commit, and a schoolteacher is given the task of helping him face his punishment like a man. The facts seem simple, but there is so much more to this little book. Through Grant Wiggins, the articulate yet conflicted narrator, Ernest J. Gaines presents the plight of downtrodden African Americans in the South. Yet he also makes the reader confront what it means to be truly human, and to face one's destiny with true courage.
Kathy McC
Jul 02, 2008 Kathy McC rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
This book is set in Louisiana in the 1940s. Grant Wiggins is a teacher on a plantation school, disillusioned with his life and his career.
"When you see that those 5 1/2 months you spend teaching each year are just a waste of time. You'll see that it'll take more than 5 1/2 months to scrape away the blanket of ignorance that has been plastered over those brains in the past 300 years."
"I felt like crying, but I refused to cry. There would be many more who would end up like he did. I can't cry f...more
Telly McGaha
When I first started reading this book, I could not put it down. This was despite the disdain that I had for the characters, almost all of the them. All of the white characters, except one, are completely deplorable. The black characters do not fare much better, in my opinion. The main character's aunt is especially annoying. She is domineering and pouty. The other old lady is aggravatingly weak, although that is arguably too strong of a word for her since the entire plot the story is built upon...more
Sean
(Review taken from National Endowment for the Arts' website. --SR)

Ernest J. Gaines's A Lesson Before Dying (1993) poses one of the most universal questions literature can ask: Knowing we're going to die, how should we live? It's the story of an uneducated young black man named Jefferson, accused of the murder of a white storekeeper, and Grant Wiggins, a college-educated native son of Louisiana, who teaches at a plantation school. In a little more than 250 pages, these two men named for president...more
Kellie
There are so many lessons learned when reading this book. This is the story of Jefferson. Jefferson is at the wrong place at the wrong time and is accused and convicted of robbery and murder. He is referred to, by his own defense lawyer, as a “hog”. The reader knows he is innocent. He is convicted by a jury of 12 white men. He is sentenced to death by electrocution. Even though he is innocent and all of the black people know it, it is accepted. This is the hardest thing for me to understand. The...more
K
I wavered between three and four stars because this book was a slow starter, ponderous for the first half to two thirds of the story. The last section made up for that, though, so it's going to be four stars in the final analysis.

Grant, the main character, is an African-American schoolteacher in Jim Crow 1940s Louisiana. Grant lives with his aunt and feels frustrated and stifled in his job, in no small part because of the uphill battle he must fight just for chalk. The one bright spot in his lif...more
Michael
A tale of Jefferson, a poor black man in Louisiana in the late 40's, sentenced to death for a crime he didn't commit, and the teacher, Grant Wiggins, who is asked to help him somehow to become more of a man before he dies. Grant has little faith in his value as a teacher to elementary kids facing an unjust and impoverished life or belief in any afterlife. But he comes to identify with Jefferson and his need to achieve a sense of his own self-dignity, and this task becomes part of his own quest....more
Tyshae Frazier
This book was extraordinary! In the beginning of the book it starts right away with action. A boy named Jefferson makes some dumb decisions and has to go to trial where he is sentenced to be electrocuted, but thats not even the worst part! The book is all based on the idea of jefferson becoming a man, not a hog. Throughout the book there are multiple emotional moments, conflicts, and surprising moments. This book will keep you on the edge of your seat and you won't want to put it down!
Paige
Through the eyes of a dissatisfied teacher begrudgingly enlisted to cultivate pride in a youth sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit, Ernest Gaines tells a powerful story of black masculinity in the 1940s South. Although this book is only about twenty years old, it has already earned the distinction of being a “classic” and it’s easy to see why.

This is a hard book for me to review. In a way I think this reflects well on the book: it speaks for itself. I took the writing style immedia...more
Patricia
A Lesson Before Dying is a novel written Ernest J. Gaines. Set in a small rural community in Louisiana during the late 1940s, the book concerns itself with the injustice perpetrated on a young black man who was sentenced to death for a crime that he did not commit. Jefferson, who was accused of murdering a white liquor store owner during a robbery, happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Two of his associates decided to rob the store when Jefferson was with them, and ended up bein...more
Susan
(fiction, 3.5 out of 5 stars)
A young black man, Jefferson, is with two other men who commit a robbery and people are killed and Jefferson is tried and sentenced to be executed. Sad, straightforward plot.

Because I don't like to know too much about a story before I read it for myself, I didn't know that the setting was 1940s Louisiana, so was appalled in the first few pages that Jefferson had such an unfair trial where even his defending counsel was racist. But...1940s Louisiana...no, this is not...more
Shaun
This is the second book I've read by Gaines, the first being A Gathering of Old Men, and I'm pleased to say that I found both to be quite good reads.

The story, which is told in simple and understated prose, is centered around a young black school teacher named Grant Wiggins who has been charged with what seems like the impossible task of teaching a wrongly convicted and uneducated black man (Jefferson) how to be a "man" before he is executed in the electric chair.

Set in a small Cajun community d...more
James
This is a very inspirational book. I recently saw a reading of a stage adaptation and it did not lose its emotional power. 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. Each must learn a lot about himself. The teacher, Grant Wiggins, believes that he must get away from that town, that country, as soon as possible.
"I was not there, yet I was there. No, I did not go...more
jo
i reread a lesson before dying. i remembered it not at all. all i remembered was that there were many conversations between someone and someone else, the latter of whom was about to be executed.

but i remembered wrong. there aren't many conversations between the two. in fact, they barely exchange a few hundred words. and, in the balance of the book, the scenes in which they meet take very little space.

which saddened me at the beginning, because i was in the mood for some good writing about how yo...more
Susan
Jun 05, 2008 Susan rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone

summer book; 07- *A Lesson before Dying* is an realistic non-fiction novel. It involves the story of a man named Ernest Grants, he helps to defend the rights of a black man who was accused of murder in a liquor store with two other men. This book is a very breathe-taking novel because it expands on the idea of how Jefferson (the victim on trial) should be sentenced to death a "man". However, everyone in the courthouse thought that he was a hog and shouldnt be treated as an human being. Jefferson...more
Danielle Franco-Malone
This book was okay.

I felt like the author could have done a better job of making interesting characters with multiple dimensions. The only two characters that were even attempted to be portrayed as interesting, evolving people were the two main characters. Everyone else was essentially static representations of a particular caricature (i.e. the girlfriend who represents everything good, the grandma who represents piety, the sheriff who represents bigotry, etc, etc). And even the two characters...more
Julie
This story is set in Bayonne, La. in the late 1940s. It concerns Jefferson, a mentally slow, barely literate young man, who, though an innocent bystander to a shootout between a white store owner and two black robbers, is convicted of murder, and the sophisticated, educated man who comes to his aid. When Jefferson's own attorney claims that executing him would be tantamount to killing a hog, his incensed godmother, Miss Emma, turns to teacher Grant Wiggins, pleading with him to gain access to th...more
Heather
I enjoyed this book. Very good writing on the authors part. I am however just completely shocked and appauled at the way the black people were treated in this book. It takes place in the 1940's in the south. I know I was taught in history and in school about this but never have actually read a book or I guess paid much attention to it. WOW! Our country has come a long way I am proud to say! I am just so overhelmed I don't have much to say or its hard for me to find the words to describe how i fe...more
Teresa
On the surface this novel seems to be fairly simple, but in reality it is quite complex. There are so, so many issues packed into its under-300 pages. At its 'simplest,' it's the story of self-actualization, of achieving selfhood through narrative.

Read with a local group for LEH's RELIC program, "Encounter in Louisiana."
Irene
An intensely vivid view of 1940's Southern racial injustice in a small Louisiana town. Grant Wiggins endeavors to impart his greatest lesson and gift to Jefferson in his struggle to face a death penalty he neither deserves nor is willing to accept...dignity and personal redemption.
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Born to a sharecropping family, Ernest Gaines was picking cotton in the fields by age nine and only attended school five or six months a year. When he was fifteen, he moved to California to join his mother who had relocated during World War II, and began writing. He attended San Francisco State University, served in the army, and won a writing fellowship to Stanford University. Gaines has been a M...more
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“I want you to show them the difference between what they think you are and what you can be.” 63 likes
“I have no more to say except this: We must live with our own conscience.” 26 likes
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