full title · A Lesson Before Dying
author · Ernest J. Gaines
type of work · Novel
genre · Fiction; historical fiction; social commentary
language · American English
date of first publication · 1993
publisher · Vintage Books
narrator · Grant Wiggins
point of view · First person
tone · Grant’s narrative voice reflects his changing moods, shifting from brooding cynicism to awareness and confidence.
tense · Past
setting (time) · 1940s
setting (place) · Bayonne, Louisiana
protagonist · Grant Wiggins
major conflict · Grant and Jefferson struggle to help Jefferson die with dignity.
rising action · Grant’s regular visits to Jefferson’s jail cell; Jefferson’s reaction of anger and silence
climax · Grant gives a passionate speech to Jefferson, and both men cry.
falling action · Jefferson becomes thoughtful and brave and dies an admirable death.
themes · Recognizing injustice and facing responsibility; redemption in death; the inescapable past
motifs · Constructive lying; small displays of power; Christian imagery
symbols · The notebook; the chair; the church; food and drink
The main conflict of A Lesson Before Dying lies within Grant himself. Even though Grant struggles to manage in the racist white society, his primary struggle is with his own mind. As he says to Vivian, he cannot face Jefferson because he cannot face himself and his own life. Vivian exposes Grant’s conflicted nature by bringing up the fact that he left the South in the past but eventually returned. Grant feels repulsed by the environment in which he grew up, but somehow he cannot bring himself to leave. Despite his statement that Vivian’s... Read more→
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rant’s inner conflict stems from his experiences in education, including his exposure to the cynical Antoine. Inspired by years of study, Grant wants to make great changes in his hometown. Grant’s behavior defies stereotype, but in order to live, he must follow certain rules that make his small moments of defiance futile. The losing battle between small rebellions and survival becomes clear in Grant’s conversation with Guidry. Grant takes pride in flouting Guidry’s racist expectations by using grammatical English and maintaining his ... Read more→
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Her comment here at the end of Chapter 12 shows that she enjoys the thought of living with Grant in the South. Gaines shows Vivian’s emotional state here in order to heighten the ensuing clash between her and Grant that occurs later in the novel.