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A Lesson Before Dying

Ernest J. Gaines

Key Facts

Main ideas Key Facts

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