Friday, August 27, 2010


Title: A Lesson Before Dying
Author: Ernest J. Gaines
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group (1993)

Jefferson was in the wrong place at the wrong time. When two blacks murder a white storekeeper and are killed as well, Jefferson is wrongly accused of being the murderer. In his defense, his attorney calls him a dumb animal, no more than a hog. When Jefferson is sentenced to death by electric chair, his godmother, Miss Emma, needs Jefferson to go to that chair like a man instead of a hog. In enters Grant Wiggins, an African-American school teacher in Louisiana. Tante Lou, his aunt, forces Grant to make Jefferson a man. As Grant spends more time with the condemned man, he discovers what makes a man and finds that Jefferson could be the savior that the entire community is looking for. 

Ernest J. Gaines's A Lesson Before Dying is a poignant book of the struggles of African Americans in the late 1940s Louisiana community. The novel's atmosphere reminded me of Lee Harper's To Kill a Mockingbird and Stephen King's The Green Mile. Mr. Gaines leads the reader into the past and tugs on their heartstrings as they try to reconcile with such injustice in an unjust time. The true impact of the story was on Grant Wiggins's journey as he receives the true lesson. The novel has Biblical overtones, including portraying Jefferson as the condemned savior and Grant Wiggins is more the follower instead of the teacher he is supposed to be. A Lesson Before Dying is a classic, must-read for anyone, so we don't forget the past and the injustices around us all.