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A Lesson Before Dying

Ernest J. Gaines

Key Facts

Important Quotations Explained

Study Questions & Essay Topics

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

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Conflicts

by brittdawg22, September 02, 2013

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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120 out of 125 people found this helpful

conflicts

by brittdawg22, September 02, 2013

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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9 out of 10 people found this helpful

future conflict?

by brittdawg22, September 02, 2013

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.

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