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A Lesson Before Dying [Hardcover]

Ernest J. Gaines
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (402 customer reviews)

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School & Library Binding CDN $17.37  
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Paperback CDN $11.51  
Audio, CD, Audiobook, Unabridged CDN $23.20  
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Book Description

March 23 1993
From the author of A Gathering of Old Men and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman comes a deep and compassionate novel. A young man who returns to 1940s Cajun country to teach visits a black youth on death row for a crime he didn't commit. Together they come to understand the heroism of resisting.

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From Amazon

Oprah Book Club® Selection, September 1997: In a small Cajun community in 1940s Louisiana, a young black man is about to go to the electric chair for murder. A white shopkeeper had died during a robbery gone bad; though the young man on trial had not been armed and had not pulled the trigger, in that time and place, there could be no doubt of the verdict or the penalty.

"I was not there, yet I was there. No, I did not go to the trial, I did not hear the verdict, because I knew all the time what it would be..." So begins Grant Wiggins, the narrator of Ernest J. Gaines's powerful exploration of race, injustice, and resistance, A Lesson Before Dying. If young Jefferson, the accused, is confined by the law to an iron-barred cell, Grant Wiggins is no less a prisoner of social convention. University educated, Grant has returned to the tiny plantation town of his youth, where the only job available to him is teaching in the small plantation church school. More than 75 years after the close of the Civil War, antebellum attitudes still prevail: African Americans go to the kitchen door when visiting whites and the two races are rigidly separated by custom and by law. Grant, trapped in a career he doesn't enjoy, eaten up by resentment at his station in life, and angered by the injustice he sees all around him, dreams of taking his girlfriend Vivian and leaving Louisiana forever. But when Jefferson is convicted and sentenced to die, his grandmother, Miss Emma, begs Grant for one last favor: to teach her grandson to die like a man.

As Grant struggles to impart a sense of pride to Jefferson before he must face his death, he learns an important lesson as well: heroism is not always expressed through action--sometimes the simple act of resisting the inevitable is enough. Populated by strong, unforgettable characters, Ernest J. Gaines's A Lesson Before Dying offers a lesson for a lifetime. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Gaines's first novel in a decade may be his crowning achievement. In this restrained but eloquent narrative, the author of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman again addresses some of the major issues of race and identity in our time. The story of two African American men struggling to attain manhood in a prejudiced society, the tale is set in Bayonne, La. (the fictional community Gaines has used previously) in the late 1940s. It concerns Jefferson, a mentally slow, barely literate young man, who, though an innocent bystander to a shootout between a white store owner and two black robbers, is convicted of murder, and the sophisticated, educated man who comes to his aid. When Jefferson's own attorney claims that executing him would be tantamount to killing a hog, his incensed godmother, Miss Emma, turns to teacher Grant Wiggins, pleading with him to gain access to the jailed youth and help him to face his death by electrocution with dignity. As complex a character as Faulkner's Quentin Compson, Grant feels mingled love, loyalty and hatred for the poor plantation community where he was born and raised. He longs to leave the South and is reluctant to assume the level of leadership and involvement that helping Jefferson would require. Eventually, however, the two men, vastly different in potential yet equally degraded by racism, achieve a relationship that transforms them both. Suspense rises as it becomes clear that the integrity of the entire local black community depends on Jefferson's courage. Though the conclusion is inevitable, Gaines invests the story with emotional power and universal resonance. BOMC and QPB alternates.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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4.0 out of 5 stars Not bad--but predictable in showcasing racism March 15 2014
By Lava1964 TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This novel is set in rural Louisiana in the late 1940s. The main character is Grant Wiggins, the most educated black man in a parish where educated blacks are rare. Against his wishes Wiggins becomes a teacher--actually the only teacher--at an impoverished one-room school close to home. (He'd much rather leave the parish entirely and look for greener pastures to make his mark in life.) But that's not too impotant to the plot. Wiggins is cajoled by his family members to "make a human" out of an ignorant black man, Jefferson, who is about to be rightfully executed for his involvement in a liquor store robbery that turned into the murder of the proprietor. Author Gaines attempts to make the reader feel pity for Jefferson and for Wiggins at the same time because they have difficult lives. Personally, it's tough for me to muster any sympathy for anyone who allows himself to get involved with a robbery/murder, so Gaines failed to persuade me to believe that Jefferson is just another victim of race prejudice. I suspect this novel will become more of a mandatory read for high-school students than it already is, as it fits the category of books that today's English teachers love: the oppressed minorities being held back by social circumstances beyond their control. Still, I'll give it four stars out of five.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A Lesson before Dying June 2 2004
By Jessica
This year, i really havent read much, but i've found a book that i really enjoyed, A Lesson before Dying. The book had a really good beginning, it grabed my attention right away. It starts of in the court, some one has been killed, and their trying to figure out if the "man" is really guilty of robbery and first degree murder. Their is also these two main characters that they call them Brother & bear, and they go to court to support their friend, telling them thir side of the story, because they were there with him. Later on the story, the mother is really upsset, but believes that her son is inocent of all charges. When the court is finally over, after all the convincing storys from both sides, the man was guilty with all charges of robbery and first degree murder. The man claims that he didnt kill the worker at the liqior store, and that he dindt take any of the money.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing June 14 2010
By Heather Pearson TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Audio CD
This is the story of Jefferson, a youn man living in rural Louisiana about 1948, who has been erroneously convicted of murdering a white shop keeper. Once his white lawyer has referred to him as a hog, his behaviour reverts to that of an animal. His Aunt Emma, who raised him, asks the local school teacher, Grant Wiggins, to speak with him and to help Jefferson to regain his humanity and to face his future with dignity befitting a man.
The school teacher has his own challenges. He hates living in the south, being reminded daily of the poor circumstances of the black man and the mean way in which they are treated. He longs to leave and work elsewhere, but he can't just walk away from the request of Aunt Emma as she was one of the people who helped pay for his college education.

I down loaded this from my library and listened to it on my ipod while driving. Unfortunately I had it set to shuffle and I listened to the second half of the story first and then the first half. Yes, I was a bit confused at moments, but it made me listen all that more intently. I think I might have even gained more listening to it this way.

This was an incredibly moving book. Yes, it was bad that an innocent man was railroaded into a convictions for a crime where he was a bystander. For me this book was more about the actual people of Jefferson and Grant Wiggins. They had the power to chose the type of man they were going to be, the type of man they would present to those surrounding them. Jefferson could be dragged to the electric chair or he could walk there with his head up and show that he was a better person than those who put him on that path. He was able to chose to ignore all those who said he was nothing better than an animal.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Not To Be Missed! June 10 2005
We have read this book before. We have heard these lessons taught and we have seen what happens when we refuse to learn them. We heard the voice of innocence lost in To Kill a Mockingbird when Scout realized that racism for the sake of tradition is still racism. Now, in A Lesson Before Dying, Ernest J. Gaines, gives us a voice from the other side of the tracks.
Grant Wiggins is a young man in the south, during the days of "Separate but Equal". He's six years out of University, a little too educated for most white folks' taste, but he keeps his learning in line by teaching at the black school in the quarter (short for ex-slave quarters) on the old plantation where he lives with his Aunt. He's resigned himself to his fate. He knows the rules and he plays by them. He ends sentences addressed to white men with "sir", and he doesn't look a white man in the eyes unless the white man is speaking to him. He'd be angry if he thought it wasn't pointless.
Then comes along an event that changes everything. Not so much his world, as much as the way that he sees it. His old Aunt's friend's godson, has the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This puts him on trial for the murder of a white man. His court appointed defense attorney appeals to the jury of 12 white men, that Jefferson, guilty though he may be, should not be put to death. "What justice would there be to take this life? Justice, gentlemen? Why, I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this." Even with such a strong argument, the jury gives him the death penalty.
These are the words that changed the course of Grant Wiggins' life. Jefferson's godmother wants "the teacher make him know he's not a hog, he's a man. I want him know that 'fore he go to that chair...".
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Lesson For All!
Overall I feel that this book is extremely well written. The book is centered on one main character and gives you the ability to get into his mind. Read more
Published on May 23 2005 by Spencer
5.0 out of 5 stars Lessons well learned
A LESSON BEFORE DYING is about relationships. Relationships between a man and a woman, a man and his family, and a man and society. Read more
Published on Feb. 11 2005 by ThomsEBynum
5.0 out of 5 stars Grabbed my attention and wouldn't let go
This book overall was very good I thought, it had a very good ending message and I enjoyed watching the changes in the characters that Gaines developed for the reader. Read more
Published on Aug. 4 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Life and death is 1940s Lousiana.
This is a wonderful novel about segrationist Lousiana and about two men trying to become men. One is a slow, barely literate young black wrongly accused of murder, and the other... Read more
Published on July 13 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars A Powerful and Moving Novel
A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines is an excellent story about duty and heroism. It takes place on a small Southern plantation outside of Bayonne, Louisianna in the 1940's. Read more
Published on May 14 2004 by Amy
5.0 out of 5 stars A man handling a difficult task.
This book really hit me hard. I grew up in the deep South in the 1960's and witnessed some of the segregation and attitudes that fill this story. Read more
Published on April 23 2004 by Michael Bond
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic!
This book was just fantastic! The writing style and themes are as brilliant as McCrae's "Bark of the Dogwood" or "Cry, The Beloved Country. Read more
Published on April 3 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars WOW!
First off i would like to say that I was suprised that a classical book would trigger my individual book taste...but i was truly impressed. Read more
Published on March 14 2004 by tonisha
1.0 out of 5 stars This book sucked.
Ugh. I had to read this bok for school and it sucks. Preformatted, horrible, and boring. Dave is so wrong with his review. The only lesson that I learned is that the book sucks.
Published on March 2 2004 by Matt L
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