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Free Study Guide-A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines-Chapter Summary
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IMPORTANT / KEY FACTS SUMMARY

Full title - A Lesson Before Dying

Author - Ernest J. Gaines

Type of work - Novel

Genre - Fiction, Historical fiction, Social commentary

Language - American English

Date of first publication - 1993


Publisher - Vintage Books

Narrator - Grant Wiggins

Point of view - First Person

Tone - Grant's narrative voice shifts from brooding to cynicism to awareness and confidence.

Tense - Past Tense

Setting (time) - 1940s

Setting (place) - In and around the area of Bayonne, Louisiana

Protagonist - Grant Wiggins

Major conflict - Miss Emma and others believe that Jefferson is capable of being more than a hog and want Grant to teach him to be a man. Others think it is pointless to try because Jefferson is black and is not capable of courage or refinement. Grant is caught in the middle.

Rising action - Grant agrees to help Jefferson and visits him regularly. Grant progresses slowly at first, as Jefferson refuses to emerge from his shell of anger and resentment.

Climax - Grant reaches a point of where he is (briefly) converted to Jefferson as a Savior-type figure and understands the importance of Jefferson’s contribution.

Falling action - Grant cannot bear to attend Jefferson's execution. He remains at his schoolhouse, but hears from Paul, the white deputy, that Jefferson did, in fact, die with pride and courage.

Themes - Fatalism vs. Individualism; Heroism; Education; Religion

Symbols - The diary; The radio; The Christmas program; kitchen door.

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