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Free Study Guide-A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines-Chapter Summary
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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS

SETTING

Most of the story takes place in 1940ís rural Louisiana, during the Jim Crow era when the South is rigidly segregated between black and white. The Ďquarterí, as Grant commonly refers to his neighborhood, is a community of blacks that work on a sugar cane plantation owned by Mr. Henri Pichot. These black workers have a school and a church completely separate from the white community. After his conviction Jefferson is incarcerated in the county jail in the nearby town of Bayonne (13 miles from the plantation), the county seat. This is also where Vivian lives and teaches school, so each time Grant visits Jefferson he arranges to see Vivian as well.

CHARACTER LIST - LIST OF CHARACTERS


Major Characters

Jefferson

A young black man who is falsely charged with murdering a white storeowner and given a death sentence.

Grant Wiggins

A plantation schoolteacher who looks to escape the racism of the South. Throughout the novel he struggles to understand what it means to be a man so that he can teach that lesson to Jefferson.

Tante Lou

Grantís aunt who raised him from a baby after his parents left Louisiana for California. She makes sure Grant follows through on his visits to Jefferson.

Miss Emma

Jeffersonís Godmother. After Jefferson is convicted of murder her purpose in life is to make sure he walks to the electric chair like a man.

Reverend Ambrose

The preacher at the plantation church. He labors both to bring Jefferson religion and help Grant understand himself and his people.

Vivian

Grantís sweetheart is a divorced mulatto woman who also teaches school. She constantly tries to convince Grant that his efforts are making a difference.

Minor Characters

Mathew Antoine

Grantís pessimist former schoolteacher. A mulatto man, Mr. Antoine tells Grant all his efforts as a teacher will make no difference in the end.

Henri Pichot

The white plantation owner. All the blacks in the quarter worked on his plantation. Before they retired, Miss Emma and Tante Lou both worked in his kitchen for decades.

Sheriff Guidry

Pichotís brother-in-law is the man responsible for overseeing Jeffersonís execution.

Paul

A Deputy Sheriff who tries to befriend Grant during his visits to see Jefferson. He is the only non-racist white person in the novel.

Dr. Joseph

The school superintendent who visits the school to inspect the students and facility. He reminds Grant of a slave buyer at an auction.

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