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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.