Nancy's Reviews > A Lesson Before Dying

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
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Jan 21, 10

bookshelves: book-group
Read in January, 2010

I don't know why, but I had to look up Ernest J. Gaines to see if he was black. (He is.) There really isn't any way for me to have more than a very simple, shallow understanding of the situation of the black man - or woman. That there is so much prejudice within the race for mulattos and those with lighter and darker skin is - interesting, distressing, sad. The anger within the characters was almost overwhelming - and off-putting - at times. I had to stop a big eye roll when Grant, the teacher, tells Jefferson, the condemned man, how he tries to treat people right when he had really been being a perfect twit toward those around him. I could understand Jefferson's anger and depression, but Grant's? The story told about the feeling of being stuck and feeling ineffectual in making a difference, so that is a major source of frustration which leads to anger. I get it. It was just hard to read.

It is pretty obvious that Jefferson isn't the one who is going to learn a lesson before dying, even though that is what you suppose from the title. And while he does change, I didn't feel it was any great transformation of his character, but just a letting-go and thinking of his nannan (godmother) and others. Grant, though, learned more than one lesson. He learned the true meaning of strength from Jefferson, Aunt Lou, Miss Emma, and Reverend Ambrose and even Vivian. He learned about love, faith, commitment.

In chapter 28 we see the role reversal between Jefferson and Grant and that was interesting. The author's use of repetition was also an interesting device that I was afraid would start to really rub me wrong, but, instead, it highlighted the scenes when it was used, gave them a sense of time and place.

The author does an excellent job of creating an atmosphere and setting us down in a time and place. I liked the writing.
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