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Ernest J Gainess award-winning novel is set in a small Louisiana Cajun community in the late 1940s Jefferson a young black man is an unwitting party to a liquor store shoot out in which three men are killed the only survivor he is convicted of murder and sentenced to death Grant Wiggins has returned home from college to the plantation school to teach children whose lives promise to be not much better than Jeffersons As he struggles with his decision whether to stay or escape to another state his aunt and Jeffersons godmother persuade him to visit Jefferson in his cell and impart his learning and pride to Jefferson before his death In the end the two men forge a bond as they come to understand the simple heroism of resisting--and defying--the expected In a story whose eloquence thematic richness and moral resonance have called forth comparisons to the work of Richard Wright James Baldwin and William Faulkner Gaines summons the reader to confront the entire bitter history of black people in the South--and by extension America as a whole A Lesson Before Dying is about the ways in which people declare the value of their lives in a time and place in which those lives seemingly count for nothing It is about the ways in which the imprisoned may find freedom even in the moment of their death Gainess novel transcends its minutely evoked circumstances to address the basic predicament of what it is to be a human being a creature striving for dignity in a universe that often denies it The world into which Ernest James Gaines was born--on January 15 1933--is essentially the world which he has distilled into the dense and complex world of his six novels and his stories The land around River Lake Plantation--near New Roads Pointe Coupee Parish Louisiana--is the land around the Pichot plantation near Bayonne St Raphael Parish presented in A Lesson Before Dying
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