Literature Study GuidesA Lesson Before Dying

A Lesson Before Dying | Study Guide

Ernest J. Gaines

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Ernest J. Gaines

Year Published





Historical Fiction

Perspective and Narrator

A Lesson Before Dying is narrated in the first person by Grant Wiggins, a teacher who visits Jefferson, a young man condemned to die, in jail.


A Lesson Before Dying is written in the past tense.

About the Title

Set in rural Louisiana in the pre-civil rights years (late 1940s), Jefferson is a young black man sentenced to die for the murder of a white man—a murder he did not commit. At Jefferson's trial, his attorney likens him to a hog—an animal—and argues Jefferson is too stupid to have planned and committed the crime. Jefferson's godmother Miss Emma, determined that Jefferson die knowing he is a man, believes the local school teacher, Grant Wiggins, can teach Jefferson this lesson during the months he has left. Tortured and jaded by inner conflicts, Grant reluctantly begins visiting Jefferson in jail. Their roles blur and the teacher receives the lesson of a lifetime from his student in A Lesson Before Dying.


This study guide and infographic for Ernest J. Gaines's A Lesson Before Dying offer summary and analysis on themes, symbols, and other literary devices found in the text. Explore Course Hero's library of literature materials, including documents and Q&A pairs.

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