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A Lesson Before Dying by Black American writer Ernest J. Gaines and published in 1993, is a novel set in Louisiana during the late 1940s. The plot revolves around Jefferson, a young Black man wrongly convicted of murder, and his transformation as he awaits execution. Grant Wiggins, a local teacher, is assigned the task of educating Jefferson and instilling in him a sense of pride and dignity before his inevitable fate. 

The setting plays a crucial role in the narrative, as the small, segregated community reflects the broader social and political climate of the time, and the story captures the harsh realities of the Jim Crow South. Gaines masterfully explores the psychological and emotional impact of systemic racism on individuals, portraying the struggle for identity and humanity in the face of oppression.

A Lesson Before Dying is deeply rooted in the Black American experience during the era of segregation. Its themes of justice, redemption, and personal responsibility remain relevant today, fostering discussions about systemic racism and the enduring fight for equality. The novel has been widely acclaimed and was adapted into a television film in 1999 starring Mekhi Phifer as Jefferson and Don Cheadle as Grant.

Read the full book summary, an in-depth character analysis of Grant Wiggins, and explanations of important quotes from A Lesson Before Dying.

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