A Lesson Before Dying (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition)

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Press: Turtleback Books; Bound for Schools & Libraries ed. edition (September 28, 1997)
Publication Date:1997-1
Author Name:Gaines, Ernest J.
Edition:Bound for Schools & Libraries ed. Edition


Grant Wiggins, a college-educated man who returns to his hometown to teach, forms an unlikely bond with Jefferson, a young Black man convicted of murder and sentenced to death, when he is asked to impart his learning and pride to the condemned man

From Publishers Weekly

Gaines's NBCC Award-winning novel tells of the relationship forged between a young black man on death row and his teacher in 1940s Louisiana. 
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.

From School Library Journal

YA-- No breathless courtroom triumphs or dramatic reprieves alleviate the sad progress toward execution in this latest novel by the author of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (Bantam, 1982). 
The condemned man is Jefferson, a poorly educated man/child whose only crimes are a dim intelligence, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and being black in rural Louisiana in the late 1940s.
To everyone, even his own defense attorney, he's an animal, too dumb to understand what is happening to him.
But his godmother, Miss Emma, decides that Jefferson will die a man.
To accomplish just that, she brings Grant Wiggins, the teacher at the plantation's one-room school and narrator of the novel, into the story.
Emotionally blackmailed by two strong-willed old ladies, Grant reluctantly begins visiting Jefferson, committing both men to the painful task of self-discovery.
As in his earlier novels, Gaines evokes a sense of reality through rich detail and believable characters in this simple, moving story.
YAs who seek thought-provoking reading will enjoy this glimpse of life in the rural South just before the civil rights movement.- Carolyn E.
Gecan, Thomas Jefferson Sci-Tech, Fairfax County, VACopyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.

From Library Journal

What do you tell an innocent youth who was at the wrong place at the wrong time and now faces death in the electric chair? What do you say to restore his self-esteem when his lawyer has publicly described him as a dumb animal? What do you tell a youth humiliated by a lifetime of racism so that he can face death with dignity? The task belongs to Grant Wiggins, the teacher of the Negro plantation school who narrates the story. 
Grant grew up on the Louisiana plantation but broke away to go to the university.
He returns to help his people but struggles over "whether I should act like the teacher that I was, or like the nigger that I was supposed to be." The powerful message Grant tells the youth transforms him from a "hog" to a hero, and the reader is not likely to forget it, either.
Gaines's earlier works include A Gathering of Old Men ( LJ 9/83) and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (Bantam, 1982).
BOMC and Quality Paperback Book Club alternate selections; previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/92.- Joanne Snapp, Randolph-Macon Coll.
, Ashland, Va.Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.

From Kirkus Reviews

Two black men (one a teacher, the other a death row inmate) struggle to live, and die, with dignity, in Gaines's most powerful and moving work since The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971). 
The year is 1948.
Harry Truman may have integrated the Armed Forces, but down in the small Cajun town of Bayonne, Louisiana, where the blacks still shuffle submissively for their white masters, little has changed since slavery.
When a white liquor- store owner is killed during a robbery attempt, along with his two black assailants, the innocent black bystander Jefferson gets death, despite the defense plea that ``I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this.'' Hog.
The word lingers like a foul odor and weighs as heavily as the sentence on Jefferson and the woman who raised him, his ``nannan'' (godmother) Miss Emma.
She needs an image of Jefferson going to his death like a man, and she turns to the young teacher at the plantation school for help.
Meanwhile, Grant Wiggins (the narrator) has his own problems.
He loves his people but hates himself for teaching on the white man's terms; visiting Jefferson in jail will just mean more kowtowing, so he goes along reluctantly, prodded by his strong-willed Tante Lou and his girlfriend Vivian.
The first visits are a disaster: Jefferson refuses to speak and will not eat his nannan's cooking, which breaks the old lady's heart.
But eventually Grant gets through to him (``a hero does for others''); Jefferson eats Miss Emma's gumbo and astonishes himself by writing whole pages in a diary--a miracle, water from the rock.
When he walks to the chair, he is the strongest man in the courthouse.
By containing unbearably painful emotions within simple declarative sentences and everyday speech rhythms, Gaines has written a novel that is not only never maudlin, but approaches the spare beauty of a classic.
-- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP.
All rights reserved.

--This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.


Set in a small Cajun community in the late 1940's, A Lesson Before Dying is the heartbreaking and inspiring new audio about the friendship to two black men. 
One wrongly condemned to die and one who's persuaded to impart something of himself -- his learning and pride.
Jefferson is an unwitting and innocent party to a liquor store shoot-out in which three men are killed; the only survivor, hi is convicted of murder and sentenced to death.
Grant Wiggins, who left his hometown for the university has reluctantly returned to the plantation school to teach.
As he struggles with his decision whether to stay or escape to another state, his aunt and Jefferson's godmother persuade him to visit Jefferson in his cell.
In the end, the two men forge a bond as they both come to understand the simple heroism of resisting (and defying) the expected.
Superb narration by Lionel Mark Smith and Roger Guenveur Smith.
--Midwest Book Review

--This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.

From the Publisher

6 1.5-hour cassettes

--This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.

From the Inside Flap

Based on Ernest J. 
Gaines' National Book Critics Circle Award-winning novel, A Lesson Before Dying is set in a small Louisiana Cajun community in the late 1940's.
Jefferson, a young illiterate black man, is falsely convicted of murder and is sentenced to death.
Grant Wiggins, the plantation schoolteacher, agrees to talk with the condemned man.
The disheartened Wiggins had once harbored dreams of escaping from his impoverished youth, yet he returned to his home town after university, to teach children whose lives seemed as unpromising as Jefferson's.
The two men forge a bond as they come to understand what it means to resist and defy one's own fate.
An L.A.
Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring: Rick Foucheux as Paul Bonin Keith Glover as Grant Wiggins Jamahl Marsh as Jefferson Linda Powell as Vivian Baptiste Jefferson A.
Russell as Reverend Moses Ambrose Jerry Whiddon as Sam Guidry Beatrice Winde as Emma Glenn Directed by Nick Olcott.
Recorded at Voice of America in Washington DC.

--This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.

From the Back Cover

"This majestic, moving noel is an instant classic, a book that will be read, discussed ad taught beyond the rest of our lives." --The Chicago Tribune

--This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.

About the Author

ROMULUS LINNEY, acclaimed playwright of over 30 plays, including Childe Byron, "2," and Holy Ghosts, is the author of two other novels, Jesus Tales and Slowly, By Thy Hand Unfurled. 
Linney has received numerous awards, including two National Critics Awards for Best Play of the Year, and two Obie Awards.
He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which gave him its Award in Literature and its Award of Merit Medal for Drama.

--This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

I was not there, yet I was there. 
No, I did not go to the trial, I did not hear the verdict, because I knew all the time what it would be.
Still, I was there.
I was there as much as anyone else was there.
Either I sat behind my aunt and his godmother or I sat beside them.
Both are large women, but his godmother is larger.
She is of average height, five four, five five, but weighs nearly two hundred pounds.
Once she and my aunt had found their places--two rows behind the table where he sat with his court-appointed attorney--his godmother became as immobile as a great stone or as one of our oak or cypress stumps.
She never got up once to get water or go to the bathroom down in the basement.
She just sat there staring at the boy's clean-cropped head where he sat at the front table with his lawyer.
Even after he had gone to await the jurors' verdict, her eyes remained in that one direction.
She heard nothing said in the courtroom.
Not by the prosecutor, not by the defense attorney, not by my aunt.
(Oh, yes, she did hear one word--one word, for sure: "hog.") It was my aunt whose eyes followed the prosecutor as he moved from one side of the courtroom to the other, pounding his fist into the palm of his hand, pounding the table where his papers lay, pounding the rail that separated the jurors from the rest of the courtroom.
It was my aunt who followed his every move, not his godmother.
She was not even listening.
She had gotten tired of listening, She knew, as we all knew, what the outcome would be.
A white man had been killed during a robbery, and though two of the robbers had been killed on the spot, one had been captured, and he, too, would have to die.
Though he told them no, he had nothing to do with it, that he was on his way to the White Rabbit Bar and Lounge when Brother and Bear drove up beside him and offered him a ride.
After he got into the car, they asked him if he had any money.
When he told them he didn't have a solitary dime, it was then that Brother and Bear started talking credit, saying that old Gropé should not mind crediting them a pint since he knew them well, and he knew that the grinding season was coming soon, and they would be able to pay him back then.
The store was empty, except for the old storekeeper, Alcee Gropé, who sat on a stool behind the counter.
He spoke first.
He asked Jefferson about his godmother.
Jefferson told him his nannan was all right.
Old Gropé nodded his head.
"You tell her for me I say hello," he told Jefferson.
He looked at Brother and Bear.
But he didn't like them.
He didn't trust them.
Jefferson could see that in his face.
"Do for you boys?" he asked.
"A bottle of that Apple White, there, Mr.
Gropé" Bear said.
Old Gropé got the bottle off the shelf, but he did not set it on the counter.
He could see that the boys had already been drinking, and he became suspicious.
"You boys got money?" he asked.
Brother and Bear spread out all the money they had in their pockets on top of the counter.
Old Gropé counted it with his eyes.
"That's not enough," he said.
"Come on, now, Mr.
Gropé," they pleaded with him.
"You know you go'n get your money soon as grinding start." "No," he said.
"Money is slack everywhere.
You bring the money, you get your wine." He turned to put the bottle back on the shelf.
One of the boys, the one called Bear, started around the counter."You, stop there," Gropé told him.
"Go back." Bear had been drinking, and his eyes were glossy, he walked unsteadily, grinning all the time as he continued around the counter.
"Go back," Gropé told him.
"I mean, the last time now--go back." Bear continued.
Gropé moved quickly toward the cash register, where he withdrew a revolver and started shooting.
Soon there was shooting from another direction.
When it was quiet again, Bear, Gropé, and Brother were all down on the floor, and only Jefferson was standing.He wanted to run, but he couldn't run.
He couldn't even think.
He didn't know where he was.
He didn't know how he had gotten there.
He couldn't remember ever getting into the car.
He couldn't remember a thing he had done all day.He heard a voice calling.
He thought the voice was coming from the liquor shelves.
Then he realized that old Gropé was not dead, and that it was he who was calling.
He made himself go to the end of the counter.
He had to look across Bear to see the storekeeper.
Both lay between the counter and the shelves of alcohol.
Several bottles had broken, and alcohol and blood covered their bodies as well as the floor.
He stood there gaping at the old man slumped against the bottom shelf of gallons and half gallons of wine.
He didn't know whether he should go to him or whether he should run out of there.
The old man continued to call: "Boy? Boy? Boy?" Jefferson became frightened.
The old man was still alive.
He had seen him.
He would tell on him.
Now he started babbling.
"It wasn't me.
It wasn't me, Mr.
It was Brother and Bear.
Brother shot you.
It wasn't me.
They made me come with them.
You got to tell the law that, Mr.
You hear me Mr.
Gropé?"But he was talking to a dead man.Still he did not run.
He didn't know what to do.
He didn't believe that this had happened.
Again he couldn't remember how he had gotten there.
He didn't know whether he had come there with Brother and Bear, or whether he had walked in and seen all this after it happened.
He looked from one dead body to the other.
He didn't know whether he should call someone on the telephone or run.
He had never dialed a telephone in his life, but he had seen other people use them.
He didn't know what to do.
He was standing by the liquor shelf, and suddenly he realized he needed a drink and needed it badly.
He snatched a bottle off the shelf, wrung off the cap, and turned up the bottle, all in one continuous motion.
The whiskey burned him like fire--his chest, his belly, even his nostrils.
His eyes watered; he shook his head to clear his mind.
Now he began to realize where he was.
Now he began to realize fully what had happened.
Now he knew he had to get out of there.
He turned.
He saw the money in the cash register, under the little wire clamps.
He knew taking money was wrong.
His nannan had told him never to steal.
He didn't want to steal.
But he didn't have a solitary dime in his pocket.
And nobody was around, so who could say he stole it? Surely not one of the dead men.
He was halfway across the room, the money stuffed inside his jacket pocket, the half bottle of whiskey clutched in his hand, when two white men walked into the store.That was his story.The prosecutor's story was different.
The prosecutor argued that Jefferson and the other two had gone there with the full intention of robbing the old man and killing him so that he could not identify them.
When the old man and the other two robbers were all dead, this one--it proved the kind of animal he really was--stuffed the money into his pockets and celebrated the event by drinking over their still-bleeding bodies.The defense argued that Jefferson was innocent of all charges except being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
There was absolutely no proof that there had been a conspiracy between himself and the other two.
The fact that Mr.
Gropé shot only Brother and Bear was proof of Jefferson's innocence.
Why did Mr.
Gropé shoot one boy twice and never shoot at Jefferson once? Because Jefferson was merely an innocent bystander.
He took the whiskey to calm his nerves, not to celebrate.
He took the money out of hunger and plain stupidity."Gentlemen of the jury, look at this--this--this boy.
I almost said man, but I can't say man.
Oh, sure, he has reached the age of twenty-one, when we, civilized men, consider the male species has reached manhood, but would you call this--this--this a man? No, not I.
I would call it a boy and a fool.
A fool is not aware of right and wrong.
A fool does what others tell him to do.
A fool got into that automobile.
A man with a modicum of intelligence would have seen that those racketeers meant no good.
But not a fool.
A fool got into that automobile.
A fool rode to the grocery store.
A fool stood by and watched this happen, not having the sense to run.
"Gentlemen of the jury, look at him--look at him--look that this.
Do you see a man sitting here? I ask you, I implore, look carefully--do you see a man sitting here? Look at the shape of this skull, this face as flat as the palm of my hand--look deeply into those eyes.
Do you see a modicum of intelligence? Do you see anyone here who could plan a murder, a robbery, can plan--can plan--can plan anything? A cornered animal to strike quickly out of fear, a trait inherited from his ancestors in the deepest jungle of blackest Africa--yes, yes, that he can do--but to plan? To plan, gentlemen of the jury? No, gentlemen, this skull here holds no plans.
What you see here is a thing that acts on command.
A thing to hold the handle of a plow, a thing to load your bales of cotton, a thing to dig your ditches, to chop your wood, to pull your corn.
That is what you see here, but you do not see anything capable of planning a robbery or a murder.
He does not even know the size of his clothes or his shoes.
Ask him to name the months of the year.
Ask him does Christmas come before or after the Fourth of July? Mention the names of Keats, Byron, Scott, and see whether the eyes will show one moment of recognition.
Ask him to describe a rose, to quote one passage from the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.
Gentlemen of the jury, this man planned a robbery? Oh, pardon me, pardon me, I surely did not mean to insult your intelligence by saying 'man'--would you please forgive me for committing such an error?"Gentlemen of the jury, who would be hurt if you took this life? Look back to that second row.
Please look.
I want all twelve of you honorable men to turn your heads and look back to that second row.
What you see there has been everything to him--mama, grandmother, godmother--everything.
Look at her, gentlemen of the jury, look at her well.
Take this away from her, and she has no reason to go on living.
We may see him as not much, but he's her reason for existence.
Think on that, gentlemen, think on it."Gentlemen of the jury, be merciful.
For God's sake, be merciful.
He is innocent of all charges brought against him.
"But let us say he was not.
Let us for a moment say he was not.
What justice would there be to take this life? Justice, gentlemen,? Why, I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this."I thank you, gentlemen, from the bottom of my heart, for your kind patience.
I have no more to say, except this: We must live with our own conscience.
Each and every one of us must live with his own conscience."The jury retired, and it returned a verdict after lunch: guilty of robbery and murder in the first degree.
The judge commended the twelve white men for reaching a quick and just verdict.
This was Friday.
He would pass sentence on Monday.
Ten o'clock on Monday, Miss Emma and my aunt sat in the same seats they had occupied on Friday.
Reverend Mose Ambrose, the pastor of their church, was with them., He and my aunt sat on either side of Miss Emma.
The judge, a short, red-faced man with snow-white hair and thick black eyebrows, asked Jefferson if he had anything to say before the sentencing.
My aunt said that Jefferson was looking down at the floor and shook his head.
The judge told Jefferson that he had been found guilty of the charges brought against him, and that the judge saw no reason that he should not pay for the part he played in this horrible crime.Death by electrocution.
The governor would set the date.From the Trade Paperback edition.

--This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.

From AudioFile

In the segregated rural Louisiana of the 1940's a retarded African-American youth is wrongly convicted of murder. 
Another African-American, a teacher, is persuaded to visit the condemned man in his cell and convince him that he "ain't no hawg." The relationship that grows between them and its effect on the teacher's worldview are the heart of this bittersweet, humane novel by the author of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.
The audio abridgment isn't particularly well-produced or narrated, yet--whether because of the strong writing, the fascinating Creole milieu, the subtle quality of the acting or another elusive quality--it's somehow riveting.
Well worth the listen! Y.R.
(c)AudioFile, Portland, Maine

--This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.


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Comment List (Total:17)

  •     Strong voice, well crafted story. Gaines lets the story tell the internal struggle of this man who learns from the lesson he is teaching. I loved this book.
  •     I think it is impossible for a white man , as I am, who lived in the segregated South, to even begin to understand the depths of humiliation experienced by black people in our society. Mr. Gaines' book helps one see, through a black man's eyes, the daily, and lifelong degradation and deprivation inflicted on fellow human beings. It is a painful lesson but one we need to learn if we are to ever effectively remedy the racial bias that continues in our nation--on both sides of the Mason Dixon.
  •     The book was a little disappointing but it did keep my attention.
  •     This is a wonderful book, for the sake of humanity I hope it will continue to be read and discussed in education. Thank you EJ Gaines.
  •     Enjoyed this book very much. Recommend to anyone looking for a thought provoking read.
  •     I read this book. Great book! I order one to send to my brother for Christmas, because he is an avid reader.
  •     Read this book years ago, but when I knew my son had to read for a project, I decided to re-read. Just wonderful!
  •     My son needed this book for his 8th grade English class. I decided to read it to help him on his essay. The book is so good. I cried, smiled and laughed. I really love this book.
  •     Great book!
  •     I have several opinions about this book, and the first is that it should be placed on the mandatory reading list of every high school student in the USA; it is destined to become a literary classic in the same vein as Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. The themes introduced throughout this book are designed to elicit discussion and shatter stereotypes. The transformation of the book's main character, Jefferson- a poor, uneducated, young, black man who has been convicted of a murder he didn't commit and whose life is compared to that of a hog by his own defense attorney in the worst closing argument to a jury ever atempted, is remarkable to watch unfold. Jefferson is reborn on death row with the help of his teacher, Grant Wiggins, the university educated, local black school teacher who reluctantly agrees to visit Jefferson in his cell at the request of Jefferson's aunt, Miss Emma, who wants Wiggins to make Jefferson know he "ain't no hog." This book will evoke emotions in most of us; you will feel yourself react as you read. It is so very well written. Of course, the question remains is whether the book's themes will make a difference to its readers. Ernest J. Gaines, the author, must think that they will; I think that the book could have been titled, a lesson for us all.
  •     This is the second time I have read this moving powerful novel. The story takes place in the 40s but the message continues to ring true. Unfortunately.
  •     A Lesson Before Dying - Book Review A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines covers topics of racism, isolation, and beliefs. It shows prejudice of favoring white over black.
  •     We are hosting a foreign exchange student from Sweden who is attending high school; his English class was assigned to read the book; I picked it up and looked over it and decided to buy and read it. Really enjoyed it; as a baby boomer who grew up with segregated schools, and went through de-segregation in the 60's I could fully understand the story. We also were fortunate enough to go see the play which was put on locally and was quite a moving experience.I am currently reading Gaine's A Gathering of Old Men.MK
  •     So, we were all assigned our summer reading and completely hated the fact we had to actually read during summer, but to my surprise I actually enjoyed one of the books I read. A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines is a heartwarming novel of how man can overcome enormous obstacles which are set against him. The story is set in the late 1940's in the small Cajun community of Bayonne, Louisiana. Racism continues to haunt this small town and all of its members. This story is told through the eyes of a young teacher named Grant who finds himself struggling to find happiness in the small community he lives in. Early in the novel you learn that the story is going to surround a young black man named Jefferson who is caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. When two men attempt to rob a local liquor store, the owner of the store and the robbers begin shooting. Jefferson is an innocent bystander to the crime, and when the smoke clears Jefferson is the only one left standing. Even though Grant was unable to go to the trial he already knew the outcome. He states, "I was not there, yet I was there. No, I did not go to the trial, I did not hear the verdict, because I knew all the time what it would be." Jefferson was unable to prove his innocence, mostly due to the community's racist feelings, and is sentenced to execution. Jefferson's godmother soon realizes that there is no escape for Jefferson from this terrible fate, and that Jefferson must find a way to walk to his unfair death with his head held high. So his godmother asks Grant, the local school teacher, the favor of helping her turn her godson into a mature adult. At first Grant is doubtful of being able to help in this situation, but eventually he takes on the role of Jefferson's mentor. Grant tries to persuade Jefferson to do the unthinkable: "I want you to show them the difference between what they think you are and what you can be." With all odds against them, the two are able to perform a miracle which everyone else feels is impossible. Gaines creates a world in which you become lost and find yourself cheering and crying with the characters as they face and triumph over the obstacles set against them. He creates characters that are realistic and act like you and I would. They aren't perfect and they make mistakes, but that's what makes them so loveable. You are able to connect with them and feel as if they are family or close friends. This novel is high-quality from the beginning to end, but the ending is amazing. The ending is one where after you have finished you want to read it again and again. You want there to be a sequel so you can once again revisit the characters you know and love. A Lesson Before Dying is well written and holds many life lessons from which we can all learn. I recommend that all high school students and adults read this book. I think that anyone who is looking for a novel with valuable principles and a good plot would definitely enjoy this book. This novel scores an A+ with me and I think that anyone would appreciate it. Whether it's a summer reading choice or not, you'll love this novel.
  •     A Lesson before Dying is set in a small town in Louisiana in the 1940s and told, for the most part, by the teacher of the town's black students. It's a culture still based on the plantation system socially, if not legally. Disturbing the uneasy peace between the races is the impending execution of a young black man, who has been convicted of the crime of killijg a white man in a store robbery. The book is the stoy of how he learns to face that death, and the teacher's accompanying apiritual journey.That said, I hated the book. There is not a good white person or a bad black person in the book. Perhaps that is true of the book's setting, but why are we still playing the victim game 60 years later? Slavery and its aftermath were abominations, but things have changed. And most white/Asian/Hispanic/Native American people - especially women - have some major gripes about the fairness of life, too.There is plenty of literature about the sins of the past, but I'm more interested in how we learn to heal.
  •     This is a novel that will stay with and haunt the reader long after the book is closed!
  •     This story touched my heart; I connected with the characters and felt like I was there on the plantation.

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