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A LESSON BEFORE DYING BOOK

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A Lesson Before Dying book. Read reviews from the world's largest community for readers. A Lesson Before Dying is set in a small Cajun community in. A Lesson Before Dying Is Ernest J. Gaines' eighth novel, published in While it is a Find sources: "A Lesson Before Dying" – news · newspapers · books. A Lesson Before Dying: A Novel (Vintage Contemporaries) and millions of other books are available for instant access. A Lesson Before Dying (Oprah's Book Club) Paperback – Enhanced, September 28, So begins Grant Wiggins, the narrator of Ernest J. Gaines's powerful exploration.


A Lesson Before Dying Book

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A Lesson Before Dying is a novel by Ernest J. Gaines that was first published in Read a Plot Overview of the entire book or a chapter by chapter Summary and. Sign me up to get more news about Fiction books. . A Lesson Before Dying won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, the most recent of. Gaines's first novel in a decade may be his crowning achievement. In this restrained but eloquent narrative, the author of The Autobiography of Miss Jane.

In Chapter 27, what does the conversation between Reverend Ambrose and Grant reveal about each and about the lives of their people? Is he justified in lying to his congregation, as he admits he has done over the years? What levels of meaning and import are established in this dialogue?

Setting and Society 1.

A Lesson Before Dying

What details does Gaines provide to establish the identity and significance of the quarter and its history, the plantation, Bayonne, and the surrounding county? What details reveal white expectations concerning blacks, black expectations concerning whites, and the resulting behavior of individuals in each group?

Citing specific characters or groups of characters as illustrations, can you map the society of the novel? How is the social world of the novel structured?

What and who determines that structure? How do various blacks and whites claim, sanction, and enforce these social strata?

In Chapter 6, why does Pichot keep Grant waiting for "nearly two and a half hours"? Why does Grant wait? What does this scene reveal about the relationships among blacks and whites in Louisiana, the South, and the nation in the late s? How does Gaines provide a sense of the lives and work of the people of the quarter, of their living conditions, and of their activities? What is the range of their activities and their lives?

What elements of setting are emphasized? Are these elements presented in and of themselves, as contributing to a sense of setting, or in association with specific characters or groups of characters? What is the significance of the name of the Rainbow Club? How does Gaines establish the unchanging ways of the two communities, black and white?

What details of individual lives and of communal life contribute to the lack of change? What has changed and what has not? Are there other instances in which Grant calls our attention to things that have changed or remained the same?

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How does the layout of Bayonne correspond with that of the plantation and with the structure of society in St.

Raphael Parish? More than once, in connection with a kindness or word of understanding from Paul Bonin, Grant comments that Paul "had come from good stock. Themes and Motifs 1. What are the dominant themes of the novel and how are they worked out in terms of the characters and their words and actions? How do these issues relate to the wider issue of capital punishment?

What small, specific actions and expressions of the white characters reveal their deep-seated racism e. Identify as many as possible of the small, specific actions and expressions of the black characters that reveal their attitudes toward whites and their historically enforced conventions of behavior toward whites.

What objects and actions seem to focus or crystallize this conflict [pp. Is Grant a hero, according to the definition he gives Jefferson in Chapter 24 [pp. Is Jefferson a hero? To what extent does Grant see Jefferson and his fate as an object lesson for the children? What kind of object lesson? In Chapter 8, Grant watches the sixth-grade boys saw and split wood and recalls his own experiences as a student.

What do his description and memories reveal about his own character and about life in the quarter over the years? What are the full meaning and implications of "the burden," which Grant recalls as being passed from Matthew Antoine to himself?

In Chapter 17, both Paul and Grant say that they will do their duty in respect to Jefferson.

Does each of the other main characters have a clear notion of his or her duty? In Chapter 22, Grant notes that Jefferson looks at him "with an inner calmness now. In Chapter 24, Grant explains to Jefferson a "myth" that continues to determine life in their community.

A Lesson Before Dying Teacher’s Guide

What is that "myth"? Are there references to it or instances of its operation elsewhere in the novel? How are the related themes of past-and-present and stasis-and-change bodied forth in the persons and actions of the characters? What is needed to break from the past without incurring alienation or death? Does Gaines resolve the thematic conflict between a respect for the past and the need to change and grow? To what extent is the theme of fathers and sons important?

Imagery and Language 1. What Cajun and Creole words and idioms are used throughout the novel? With what frequency and in what contexts?

When and how does the "hog" metaphor appear in the novel, beginning with its first appearance in Chapter 1? With what purpose and to what effect? Do it and related animal images appear in any association or context other than those directly connected with Jefferson?

How do they establish the church-school within the landscape and history of the quarter, within the lives of the main characters, and within the main action of the novel? What is the importance in the lives of the black community of such sports heroes as Jackie Robinson and Joe Louis? Are images of the plantation—the river, the cane fields, the trees, the swamp, the cane itself, and so on—emphasized at critical points in the novel?

Are they associated with specific characters, themes, and plot developments? On the very first page Miss Emma is likened to "a great stone" and "one of our oak or cypress stumps" and in Chapter 15 Tante Lou is likened to "a boulder in the road.

Are similar images associated with other characters? What references to clothes occur in the novel? Do these references, taken together, clarify our view of the characters involved, black and white?

What does the radio mean for Jefferson and for Grant? How, in what contexts, and in association with which characters, does Gaines make use of images of the Messiah or savior? Are these images always connected specifically with Christ or are they presented in more general terms? Where does this walk take him, actually and symbolically? Quotations for Discussion and Assignment What does each of the following quotations reveal about the characters, themes, setting, action, and technique of A Lesson Before Dying?

I could look at the smoke rising from each chimney or I could look at the rusted tin roof of each house, and I could tell the lives that went on in each one of them.

Now going up to that jail…. Anything to humiliate me. All the things you wanted me to escape by going to school. Years ago, Professor Antoine told me that if I stayed here, they were going to break me down to the nigger I was born to be. Can one person effect change in a society in which traditional ways of behavior are firmly entrenched? How does one balance conflicting loyalties? They should also be encouraged to examine their own lives and society with a critical eye tempered by the carefully balanced amalgam of compassion, acceptance, and commitment to change that informs A Lesson Before Dying.

They should keep journals in which they record their responses to the novel, their responses to specific questions in this guide, and their observations on their own lives, those of their families, and their communities. Jefferson, a young black man, is an unwitting party to a liquor store shootout in which three men are killed; the only survivor, he is convicted of murder and sentenced to death. In the end, the two men forge a bond as they come to understand the simple heroism of resisting—and defying—the expected.

In a story whose eloquence, thematic richness, and moral resonance have called forth comparisons to the work of Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and William Faulkner, Gaines summons the reader to confront the entire bitter history of black people in the South—and, by extension, America as a whole.

A Lesson Before Dying is about the ways in which people declare the value of their lives in a time and place in which those lives seemingly count for nothing.

It is about the ways in which the imprisoned may find freedom even in the moment of their death. The world into which Ernest James Gaines was born—on January 15, —is essentially the world which he has distilled into the dense and complex world of his six novels and his stories. The black community in which Gaines grew up became "the quarter" of this novel, as well as providing the setting and social matrix of his previous works.

As Gaines has said: My characters speak the way the people speak in that area. They do the work that the people do there. Since most of my writing is about rural Louisiana, my characters are closely attached to the land. Comparisons have also been made between Gaines and other Southern writers.

Gaines has insisted, however, that his presentation of his characters owes much more to Tolstoy, Turgenev, and the other great nineteenth-century Russian writers. Gaines also has drawn considerably on the mores of black culture and the storytelling traditions of rural Louisiana. The result is a prose that is at once exact, idiomatic, stately, and true to the spoken language of actual people.

MacArthur Foundation fellow , Mr. Gaines has steadily been recognized for his achievement as a master of the novel and short story. In addition, one of his novels, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman , has become an undisputed classic of twentieth-century American literature and gave rise to the immensely popular, award-winning TV-movie adaptation starring Cicely Tyson. What is the pattern of point of view and focus from chapter to chapter? Is there a correspondence or symmetry among the chapters or among groups of chapters?

Does this presentation predispose us to accept what follows in a specific way?

In several instances, as at the beginning of Chapter 13, the narrative jumps ahead in time and Grant relates events or episodes in flashback. Why are these events and episodes not presented directly as part of the ongoing narrative? Is the time sequence of the novel—from late October to early April two weeks after Easter —of particular significance?

Why is there a jump of two months, from just before Christmas to late February, between Chapters 19 and 20? Does the novel consist of two groups of chapters: Chapters culminating in the Christmas season; Chapters culminating in the Easter season? What are the implications of such a structure? Are these questions ever answered?

If so, are they answered in ways that are anticipated or unanticipated? In Chapter 26, Vivian confronts Grant with a series of questions.

A Lesson Before Dying Teacher’s Guide

What are the context and import of these questions? In Chapter 28, Jefferson asks Grant a series of questions. Do these questions have any answers? What does Grant learn—and with what effect on his outlook and sense of himself—about himself and others, about his community, about the nature of belief, and about the possibilities for change and improvement? What ironies are implicit in the fact that the uneducated, deprived, barely literate, condemned victim becomes the focus of the dreams, aspirations, and desires of all the other characters?

Does more than one lesson emerge in the course of the novel? Why is the title of the book not "Lessons Before Dying"? Character and Conflict 1. What does each of these relationships reveal about Grant and about the racially structured society in which he lives? Is there a protocol that requires the black characters to address certain requests to white women and others to white men? Guidry of all that she has done for their families over the years?

Can this chapter be seen as a summing up of the main themes and the main action of the novel? Do Tante Lou, Miss Emma, and Vivian represent positive qualities that are exclusive to the black women of the quarter?

Do any black men in the novel share these qualities? Why do Miss Emma and Tante Lou insist that Grant visit Jefferson in the parish jail and teach him how to die like a man? Does his treatment of them change in the course of the novel?

At the end of Chapter 12, Vivian offers to Grant an explanation of his not "running away. What does her explanation reveal about her and about her understanding of Grant and of his situation? What conflicts are at work in the novel? How do they provide a context for, or shape the decisions and actions of, the characters? What are the terms and implications of the conflict between what Jefferson wants before he dies and what each of the others wants for and of him?

In Chapter 27, what does the conversation between Reverend Ambrose and Grant reveal about each and about the lives of their people? Is he justified in lying to his congregation, as he admits he has done over the years?

What levels of meaning and import are established in this dialogue? Setting and Society 1. What details does Gaines provide to establish the identity and significance of the quarter and its history, the plantation, Bayonne, and the surrounding county? What details reveal white expectations concerning blacks, black expectations concerning whites, and the resulting behavior of individuals in each group? Citing specific characters or groups of characters as illustrations, can you map the society of the novel?

How is the social world of the novel structured? What and who determines that structure? How do various blacks and whites claim, sanction, and enforce these social strata? In Chapter 6, why does Pichot keep Grant waiting for "nearly two and a half hours"?

Why does Grant wait? What does this scene reveal about the relationships among blacks and whites in Louisiana, the South, and the nation in the late s? How does Gaines provide a sense of the lives and work of the people of the quarter, of their living conditions, and of their activities? What is the range of their activities and their lives?

What elements of setting are emphasized? Are these elements presented in and of themselves, as contributing to a sense of setting, or in association with specific characters or groups of characters? What is the significance of the name of the Rainbow Club? How does Gaines establish the unchanging ways of the two communities, black and white? What details of individual lives and of communal life contribute to the lack of change?

What has changed and what has not? Are there other instances in which Grant calls our attention to things that have changed or remained the same? How does the layout of Bayonne correspond with that of the plantation and with the structure of society in St. Raphael Parish? More than once, in connection with a kindness or word of understanding from Paul Bonin, Grant comments that Paul "had come from good stock.

Themes and Motifs 1.

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What are the dominant themes of the novel and how are they worked out in terms of the characters and their words and actions?Welcome back. Hal Hager taught literature at several colleges for ten years and has been active in editing, marketing, reviewing, and writing about books and writers for more than twenty years. Logging out…. Thus, the writing leaves an empty hole in the center of what should be a fiery sea of emotion and personal connection.

There was a Catholic church uptown for whites; a Catholic church back of town for colored.

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