The Literary Merit of A Lesson Before Dying Essay

The Literary Merit of A Lesson Before Dying Essay

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The Literary Merit of A Lesson Before Dying


Ernest Gaines was born during the middle of the Great Depression on January 15, 1933. He was the oldest of twelve children. At the age of nine Gaines worked as an errand boy on the River Lake Plantation, the same plantation his book A Lesson Before Dying was set in. Gaines was raised by his Aunt Augusteen Jefferson, much like Grant, the protagonist in the novel, was raised by his Aunt Tante Lou. At the age of fifteen Gaines rejoined his immediate family in Vallejo, California because there were no high schools for him to attend in Louisiana. Gaines also wanted to enter a public library which was illegal for people of color to use. At this time in U.S. History, books about colored people were scarce and so Gaines decided to try and write his own novel. The desire to write led him to San Francisco State and Stanford University where he took creative writing courses. His first book, Catherine Carmier, was published in 1964. He finished his most famous novel, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, in 1971. The success of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman prompted Gaines to write more about the black communities of southern Louisiana. The most successful book dealing with the colored people of southern Louisiana, A Lesson Before Dying, was penned in 1993 (“About Ernest Gaines” 1).

A Lesson Before Dying explains the tale of the wrongful conviction of Jefferson, an ignorant colored man who was an accessory to a liquor store shooting where a white man was killed. At Jefferson’s trial a lawyer calls him a hog. At the end of the trial, Jefferson is sentenced to death by electrocution.

Miss Emma, Jefferson’s Aunt, wants Jefferson to know that he is a human before he dies. She wi...


... middle of paper ...


...ate representation of its deep insights into the mind of Jefferson. In Chapter 29 one gets an accurate and in depth view into the mind of a colored farm worker from the deep South during the 1940’s. The way the sentences were structured has not been edited to portray proper English nor have the thoughts been completed. In that passage Jefferson’s ignorance is exposed, but in doing so his values and faith shine. In his own way, he acknowledges his fate and then tries to reason why it happened. A Lesson Before Dying provides a pure and true insight into a Jefferson’s mind. This is why it should be included in a list of works of high literary merit.

Works Cited

"About Ernest Gaines". RandomHouse.com. pp. 1-2. Online. 7 May 2003. Available: http://www.randomhouse.com/vintage/gaines/books.html

Gaines, Ernest. A Lesson Before Dying. New York: Random House 1993.

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