A Lesson Before Dying is a compassionate and deeply moving novel, the story of a young black man sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit, and a teacher who tries to impart to him his learning and pride before the execution. In a small Cajun community in the late 1940s, a young black man named Jefferson is an unwitting party to a liquor ...Read MoreA Lesson Before Dying is a compassionate and deeply moving novel, the story of a young black man sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit, and a teacher who tries to impart to him his learning and pride before the execution. In a small Cajun community in the late 1940s, a young black man named Jefferson 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. Grant Wlggins is the teacher at the plantation black school. As he struggles with his decision whether to stay or escape to another state, his aunt and Jefferson's godmother persuade him to visit Jefferson in his cell in an attempt to teach him to die like a man. The two men forge a bond as they both come to understand the simple heroism of resisting - and defying - the expected.Read Less
Publishers Weekly, 1993-03-01 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 Pittman again addresses some of the major issues of race and identity in our time. The story of two African American men struggling to attain manhood in a prejudiced society, the tale is set in Bayonne, La. (the fictional community Gaines has used previously) 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 the jailed youth and help him to face his death by electrocution with dignity. As complex a character as Faulkner's Quentin Compson, Grant feels mingled love, loyalty and hatred for the poor plantation community where he was born and raised. He longs to leave the South and is reluctant to assume the level of leadership and involvement that helping Jefferson would require. Eventually, however, the two men, vastly different in potential yet equally degraded by racism, achieve a relationship that transforms them both. Suspense rises as it becomes clear that the integrity of the entire local black community depends on Jefferson's courage. Though the conclusion is inevitable, Gaines invests the story with emotional power and universal resonance. BOMC and QPB alternates. (Apr.)
Publishers Weekly, 1994-05-02 Gaines's NBCC Award-winning novel tells of the relationship forged between a young black man on death row and his teacher in 1940s Louisiana. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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