A Lesson Before Dying

Ernest J. Gaines
Main Ideas

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