​​A Lesson Before Dying: Ernest Gainesexternal image gai0-013.jpgexternal image gaines.jpg
Full Title- A Lesson Before Dying
Ernest J. Gaines
Type Of Work-
Historical Fiction, Social Commentary
Published- 1993

Ernest J. Gaines Biography..
Ernest Gaines was born on Janurary 15th, 1933 in Oscar, Louisiana. Raised on the River Lake Plantation in Pointe Coupee Parish, he was the oldest of 12 children. His mother lived with him but she always worked away from home, so he was raised by older people that depended on him because he would read and write for them and in return they taught him their wisdom, which he appreciated. The mother figure in his life was his aunt, Augustine Jefferson... "She taught him what it means to survive with dignity." Ernest Gaines recieved little schooling where he lived. He went to a Catholic school and went 5 to 6 months, which was between the time of harvesting and the time of planting. Since there was no highschool for black children where he lived, he left with his father and mother in 1948 during World War 2 and became a merchant marine in Vallejo, California. In California he spent most of his time in the library and he attented highschool there, where he established love for fiction. He started to search for writers who wrote about the South. He began to read many authors like John Steinbeck, Willa Cather, Russian writers of the 19th century but he found no black voice. So at 17 years old he wrote his first novel, sent it off to New York but it was not published and it was sent back to him. When that happened he decided that he'd be the voice he had been searching for. 1953 came and he served in the U.S Army until 1955. When he was done with the Army, he got himself into San Francisco State College where he published his first short stories. In 1956 "The Turtles" was published in the inaugural edition of Transfer which was the College's literary magazine. Next came "Boy in the Double-Breasted Suit" which was published in 1957. Then Dorothea Oppenheimer got in touch with him, encourged his writing and right away became his agent. In 1957 Ernest Gaines graduated and he was given a Wallace Stegner Fellowship to Stanford University. At this University, black writers were not given a chance, however, his teachers, Stanley Anderson, Mark Harris and Wallace Stegner saw how serious and passionate he was about writing and they egged him on. Although he left the South at an early age, the South never left his heart or his spirt so he returned there and there he wrote and wrote. As you can see in alomst all of his writings he uses the same setting which is the town Louisana, Bayonne but in each of his stories he twists it and puts in new details. His characters are also influenced from the people he grew up with as a child in the South especially his Aunt. He writes about his true experiences and in all of his books you feel the sound of Louisiana. His first novel in 1964, "Catherine Carmier", his second novel "Of Love and Dust". Then he wrote a folk autobiography, "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman" and this autobiography recevied major, wide public attention. In 1938, he wrote another book that was deffinitly public attention, "A Gathering of Old Men" and it altered into television, as did his next novel he wrote, which became huge in the public's eyes, this novel was "A Lesson Before Dying". A Lesson Before Dying was a huge success, he earned the 1993 National Book Critics' Circle Award and it was transfered to the Home Box Office cable channel in 1994 by Walt Disney Television. Gaines continued to write several more stories, short stories, essays and even children's books. Ernest Gaines is one of the most influential and meaningful writers of the twentieth century. His stories and novels are known for his illustrations, the realness and the history of the South.

Summary Of Novel:The setting of A Lesson Before Dying takes place in the made up commucity of Bayonne, Louisiana, in the late 1940s. This novel tells the story of Jefferson, a twenty-one year old uneducated, black, field worker accused and convicted of the robbery and murder of a white man Alcee Grope. However he is truely innocent, he just happened to be at the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong people and because of that he was sentenced to death by electrocution. At his trial, Jefferson's defense attorney argues that Jefferson has no intelligence to plan a robbery, and that even if he had been involved in the killing, sentencing him to death would be like putting a hog in the electric chair but still all the- white jury, finds him guilty. And on top of that, after his attorney's comment he does believe he is a hog, an animal, not a man. Jefferson's godmother, "Nannan" was at his trial and when she heard that comment she was determined that Jefferson will die with dignity, that he will die as a man and not a hog. So Miss Emma, turned to Grant Wiggins, who is a black teacher at the local school, and asked him to make Jefferson realize that he is a man. Grant's convinced that he can not do anything about it but he still went up to the prison to see and to try to get through to Jefferson. Over the next several months in the novel, while Jefferson awaits execution, he and Grant actually build a bond.. That bond actually, not only helped Jefferson to regain his dignity but Grant also regained his dignity. That bond also made both men reconnect with their community, and learn the importance of standing.

Summary Of Conflict: The main conflict in A Lesson Before Dying is actually about Grant himself. Even though Grant learns to manage in the racist white society, his real struggle is with his own mind. As he says in the book, he cannot face Jefferson because he cannot face himself and his own life. He doesn't know who he truely is or what he truely wants to do. However, his lady-friend Vivian shows Grant’s conflicted nature by bringing up the fact that he left the South in the past but for some reason he eventaully returned. Grant feels anger by the environment he grew up in, but somehow even though he can really leave whenever he wants, he still doesn't. Even though he says the only reason he stay is because of his love, Vivan... She knows that there are larger reasons to why he can't leave. You see in the novel that Grant’s pride and self-centered attitude prevents him from really appreciating the people he lives with. Finally, by the help from visiting Jefferson and talking to him, from him trying to fix Jefferson, Jefferson actually fixes him also.. Grant learns how to see his family and friends positively, he becomes able to live in the South with strength and courage and he becomes proud and happy of who he is.

Summary of Characters:

Grant Wiggins-
He is the main character of the novel. He is an elementry school teacher and young, in his twenties. Grant is highly intelligent and a caring person, however he is also really depressed and lost because he doesn't really know who he is. He is bitter from how he grew up, in his segregated community. He's angry about how the whites treat his people and him and even more angry for putting up with the treatment. He has no faith in his community or himself. He wants to escape because he feels like nothing will ever change, and he feels that's his only option. He is upset at Miss Emma and Tante Lou for making him help Jefferson because he feels there's no point and he can not help him but throughout the novel he realizes he can help Jeffereson and he accepts his responsibilty that his Aunt and Miss Emma asked him to do. He also learns to accept his own life, his relationship with other people, the fact that he is a teacher and the fact that he is a symbol of change his community. Grant Wiggins is also very much in love with Vivian and in the novel you can see his attitude change, as if he finally had hope in him.

Jefferson- Kind, young black man with not a lot of intelligence. He gets accused of killing Alcee Grope, however he really is innocent. When he is in court his lawyer refers to him as a "hog" instead of a man. He took that comment to the heart and truly started to believe that he was a hog. He becomes depressed and accepts the fact that he is going to die, therefore he becomes a dark symbol of his oppressed people. Grant Wiggins helps and eases Jefferson's pain. With Grant's help Jefferson realizes that he is a man and from that he stopped symbolizing the hardships of the black community and he started to symbolize for himself and his community, positive change.
Miss Emma(Nannan)- Jefferson's godmother, she is very much respected by her people in town because she has done a lot for them. She is a believer in god and in faith. After hearing her grandson get called a hog, she puts all her belief in making him realize that he is a man. Her main goal is making sure that Jefferson dies "like a man". She is an old woman and also very wise. She makes sure she sees Jefferson whenever she can and when she can't she make sure someone does. She is not someone that gives up.
Tante Lou- This old lady is Grant's Aunt. She is a deeply religious, spiritual, and motivated woman. And like her best friend Miss Emma she is too a believer in God. Tante Lou is a very strong women with hope and she won’t take no for an anwser. In the novel you see she loves Grant very much but she definitely disapproves and resents Grant's lack of faith or non-belief. She is a positive person in Grant's life, she pushes him and nags him to help Jefferson and because of that she is, in some way responsible for him changing Jefferson.
Vivan- Grant's love, she is beautiful, supporting and intelligent. Like Grant she is a school teacher. She teaches at the black Catholic school in Bayonne. In the novel she is in the process of getting a divorce and she has two children, so Grant and her hide their relationship so her kids do not get taken away. However she clearly loves Grant very much. She is always there for him when he needs her, she always helps him out and she never lets him give up.
Reverend Amberose- A self-righteous leader of the Black Quater's community. He believes god can heal anything. He also does not like Grant too much because Grant is a non-believer. He thinks Grant is foolish for deserting his religion.. But since Miss Emma thinks Grant is the only one that can change Jefferson, Reverned trys to convince and hopes Grant can save him. He goes up to the jail with Miss Emma and Tante Lou to see Jefferson but nothing he says goes through to Jefferson.
Paul- He works as the Sheriff's deputy in the Bayonne Jail. He is really, really kind and he likes Grant and he likes what Grant is doing for Jefferson. Paul knew Grant could change him and Paul saw how much Jefferson did change when he was at his execution. He is the only white man in the novel that doesn't treat the black people like they're lower with him. Also he is the only white man that sympathizes with the black people and the struggle they go through.
Henri Pichot- Henri is most deffinitly a stubborn man and he owned a plantation, which Miss Emma, Tante Lou and Grant lived in at a point in their lives. He is medium-sized and medium weight. He's in his mid-sixties and has long white hair. He is a rude person but he is not a bad man, he is then one that helped Miss Emma get to visit Jefferson, because he talked to the Sherriff for Miss Emma, because she has done a lot for him and his family. However he thinks he is better than the colored people, like many of his friends because he has a lot of power in the Quarter.

Sheriff Sam Guidry- He runs the prison in Bayonne. He is not so friendly and deffinitly thinks he is higher than any black person. He is kind enough and allows Miss Emma to visit Jefferson, but he also thinks that her or Grant cannot change him. He does not like Grant's intelligence; it makes him angry that Grant is smart only because he is black. He wants a white authoritarian superstructure.
Mr. Joseph Morgan-
The superintendent of the schools. He is a short, fat man that had a large, red face and a double chin. He seems kind to Mr. Grant and the children when he visits the school but that is not who he really is... He presents a facade because he really believes that the black children should work in the farms.

Literary Devices in the Novel:
1.) The Church... In this novel the church symbolizes hope and change for the community.
They use belief and believe because it comforts them and they believe god will help them from
racism and the unfairness that they go through. 2.) When Grant or Tante Lou or Miss Emma
visits Henri Pichot they always and only must use the back door.. This symbolizes back then
when slavery was still going on, slaves were not allowed to use the front door. This also,
clearly represents the racism back then because this made black people feel unequal to
white people, when they got treated that way

Literacy Criticism Of Novel: In A Lesson Before Dying I have nothing but positive criticism for this novel. In this novel Ernest Gaines symbolizes how the South, the part of the South that he grew up in was. As you start reading it, you're immediately caught up in it because the intense emotions this book will give to you. Ernest Gaines wants the reader to feel sorrow for Jefferson because he is convicted of a murder that he had nothing to do with, and you do feel sorrow and he wrote this novel so you cannot ignore the struggles that Grant goes through also. His characters in this novel are the people that he grew up with and that he loved also, for example his Aunt is portrayed in A Lesson Before Dying as this strong, black, wise woman and that is who his Aunt is in actual life. His characters are so believable because they are based on the people that raised him. This novel is so deep because it represents how things were back then. He shows you the nasty racism and how it ruined people and how it ruined people's pride. His writing in this novel is historical, so very important and most deffinitly unforgettable.

My Personal Review Of The Novel:My personal review of this novel is that it was absolutely amazing. Ernest Gaines’s writing and this novel is point blank incredible. It's such a good story and it teaches you so much, from how things were in the South back then and it teaches you and shows you that anything can change if you have hope and belief. When you read this book, you can feel the pain and the struggle of what black people had to go through. Also this book makes you feel that if you just have faith and you truly believe in yourself you can change things, you can change whatever it is that you want to change. I think honestly, that everyone should read this novel, you just learn a lot of different things from reading this book and I think everyone that reads wants to learn something. I also think that people that enjoy reading would love this book because it makes you feel the struggle, the hardship and yet the love, the faith and the strength people have. When you read this novel it's almost as if you're in it and I think that's one of the most important things that an author can do for a reader. It is deffinitly one of my favorite novels and I appreciate this book and I am very pleased that I read it.