A Lesson Before Dying

By Ernest Gaines
Genre: Literary Fiction
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Why We Like This Book
This is on my top ten list of novels that you must read.
Discussion Questions
  1. When Ernest Gaines visited my class in 1995, the students were very focused on the evolving nature of the relationship between Grant and Jefferson and what they learn from one another. But, there was also great interest in the issue of the black man’s inability to find his place in ‘White America’ and its impact on black women and their community. Is there a connection between these two issues, and if so, what is it?
  2. This novel illustrates the idea that a great piece of fiction is NOT about what happens, but how and why. We learn everything essential to the plot in the opening pages. Does this diminish or enhance the power of the novel?
  3. In Chapter 21 (about three pages in) Vivian and Grant talk about how Miss Emma needs Jefferson to stand….’that he did not crawl to that white man, that he stood at that last moment and walked. Because if he does not, she knows that she will never get another chance to see a black man stand for her.’ Why is this an important conversation for Vivian and Grant to have? What is the nature of their relationship and why is it important in this novel?
  4. In Chapter 24 (about four pages in), Jefferson and Grant reflect on the idea of a hero. Why is this significant? Who is the hero of this novel?
  5. Again, God and religion are central in an African-American novel. What are the similarities/differences to Go Tell It On The Mountain and Their Eyes Were Watching God?