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Free Study Guide-A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines-Chapter Summary
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The major conflict involves fatalism vs. individualism. The debate over Jefferson involves whether people can change their own nature and by doing so effect their own environment.


The protagonist of a story is the main character who traditionally undergoes some sort of change. He or she must usually overcome some opposing force. In this novel, the individualist faction, which included Vivian, Tante Lou, Reverend Ambrose, believed that man is capable of determining his own destiny, that people can be lifted out of ignorance and poverty through religion and education. They encouraged Grant that, although his efforts appeared to be futile, he is having a powerful influence on Jefferson.


The antagonist of a story is the character that provides an obstacle for the protagonist. Plots may have multiple antagonists that work together to oppose the main character. In this story, the fatalist faction, which included Sheriff Guidry, Henri Pichot, and Mathew Antoine, believed that race determines your fate. They attempt to convince Grant that no matter what he did for Jefferson or for his schoolchildren, he could not divert them from their inevitable futures.


The climax of a plot is the major turning point that allows the protagonist to resolve the conflict. By the time Jefferson’s execution date arrives, he understands his own importance as a symbol of pride and dignity for the entire black community. When he displays incredible bravery while walking to the electric chair, he is no longer the ‘hog’ described by the defense attorney at his trial. Individualism has triumphed over fatalism.

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