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A Lesson Before Dying [School & Library Binding]

Ernest Gaines
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (403 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 1 1997 Vintage Contemporaries
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.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Horribly unoriginal Dec 31 2003
An instant classic? Not one knew idea, stylistic device, or character was used. Yes, blacks in the South in the 1940s had it tough ... there is no need to remind us. Gaines did nothing to expand upon our knowledge of this, and if his intention was for greater equality, he failed miserably and only created more hate between the characters and/or the people who read this book. The writing was tediously simple; the language was drab and the sentences short and without variety. Many of the characters, with perhaps the exception of Jefferson, were romanticized. They were unable to think outside of even their small town. And I'm afraid to say, no great lessons were taught before dying. The plot was repetitive until the last couple chapters. The protagonist, Grant, visited Jefferson for weeks without any real conversation. To take us away from this boring reality, Gaines tells us over and over again how Grant was so upset things did "not go well in bed" for him and Viviane. The phrase must have been used two dozen times. The entire directionless and unoriginal book is more like a corny movie using ideas used a hundred times before.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Lesson Through Boredom March 16 1999
By A Customer
This book wasn't written by Oprah, but it looks like it could have been--a sappy melodrama that attempts to pull the reader to judge through emotion--much like Oprah's talk show. The idea I do like: a black man is wrongfully convicted of a crime and controversy is to follow. The first and last chapters of the book I liked the most--they were more focused on Jefferson himself and how others felt--had the book been focused on that the entire time, I probably would have enjoyed the book. Instead, Gaines turns it into a psychological tug-of-war with Grant, having his mind switch back and forth about whether to help out Jefferson or not, barely focusing on the conflict itself. The paragraphs including Grant's aunt and girlfriend were what I think Gaines intended to be the emotional pull of the story, but that just kept pushing away the focus on Jefferson, sidetracking the storyline (this is what I think Oprah liked in the book). So, once again, I felt the story could have been SO much more, just that Gaines went for the wrong effect (whatever it may have been). I apologize if you think my review was boring--it reflects the book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The lesson: Oprah could sell a bicycle to a fish June 3 1999
By A Customer
For readers looking for That Death Row Experience, check out "Dead Man Walking" instead. "A Lesson Before Dying" is a tedious exercise in racial pandering, repetitive not only in themes (Grant Wiggins, a black man who has escaped Massah and gotten a teaching certificate, encounters racism from Massah & co. at every turn while wondering ceaselessly whether to blow town and if so, whether to take his married girlfriend with him) but also in language (if I had a nickel for every time Grant called his girlfriend "Honey" in one memorable passage, I would be the new owner of the Redskins). The story plods along blindly until Jefferson, a mentally-challenged inmate who is supposed to learn said lesson, shows us his journal. From that point on, it's compelling and touching. Too bad that's not until the last chapter or so.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I am a student at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, and "A Lesson Before Dying" was required reading in one my English courses (this may be due to the fact that Mr. Gaines is the "writer in residence" at the school). First off, this book does not take place in a cajun community, it is actually of the creole which dates back to the old-south antebellum style of living. Secondly, I have never enjoyed a book less than I did this one. It's long, drawn out cry against racism is as dry as the Sahara, and I merely felt annoyance at the two central characters, Jefferson and Grant, for their reluctance to show feelings toward others than themselves. I'm sorry, but in all honesty, I cannot say that this book was a "masterpiece;" the only descriptive word to acurately describe it is "blech."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars One of the worst books I've ever read. Feb. 6 1999
By A Customer
Format:Audio Cassette
While reading this novel, I felt I like I was reading the work of an immature high schooler, trying to relate a thought-provoking story. Gaines took what could have been an interesting idea, and sculpted it into one of the cheesiest, most boring novels ever written. Gaines poorly develops an unlikable, selfish protagonist, Grant, and then drags us through the hardships in his relationships with his aunt, girlfriend (whose relationship with Grant definitely brings out the worst in Gaines' writing abilities), and his death-row inmate charity case Jefferson. Jefferson's diary is perhaps the only effective part of the book in provoking emotion. There was no lesson to be learned from this novel, other than NEVER LISTEN TO OPRAH!!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Lesson Before Dying Jan. 10 2000
This was a very long winded book. It was not a page turner at all. I found myself not wanting to finish the book for as short as it was. I thought it would get better, but it never did. At times the writer leaves you hanging as to what is happening with the prisoner and then out of no where, the writer takes you back to the prisoner. Somewhat confusing and very boring. The only excitement is when the teachers go off into a field and have sex. I do not understand why that was even brought into the book. Boring. This is the second worst book I have bought going by the Oprah Winfrey Book Club Review. Bad Taste.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Book is BORING
Let me first say that the book is completely boring and only for those "super in depth reader" that care about these topics. Read more
Published 19 days ago by Jimmy Shi
4.0 out of 5 stars Not bad--but predictable in showcasing racism
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. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Lava1964
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing
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. Read more
Published on June 14 2010 by Heather Pearson
5.0 out of 5 stars Not To Be Missed!
We have read this book before. We have heard these lessons taught and we have seen what happens when we refuse to learn them. Read more
Published on June 10 2005 by Lily Bartels
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. 10 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
3.0 out of 5 stars A Lesson before Dying
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. Read more
Published on June 2 2004 by Jessica
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 13 2004 by Amy
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