A Lesson Before Dying

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Lesson Before Dying
by Ernest J. Gaines

Set in 1940s Louisiana, a young black man, Jefferson, is wrongly convicted of committing a robbery and murder and is sentenced to death. Jefferson’s godmother convinces a local teacher, Grant Wiggins, to visit Jefferson before he is executed to help teach him to value himself.

I just couldn’t get into this one. None of the characters are likeable, especially Grant. He seemed so bitter and angry and had no desire to help anyone around him. I wanted to know what Jefferson was going through and what he thought about the whole situation, but we don’t get a glimpse into his mind until the book is almost over. It felt like Tuesdays with Morrie with racism on death row.

I never felt like we were given an empathetic character to connect with. I found some of the minor characters, like Jefferson’s godmother and the prison guard, etc. more interesting that the main players. I would have liked to know what they were thinking.

The book gives readers an important look at how flawed the justice system was in the 1940s. It can’t possibly be considered a jury of one’s peers when your own race is nowhere to be seen in the group. But the story lacked heart and because of that I don’t think it will have a lasting impact.


Jenners said...

A lot of people seem to be reading and reviewing this book lately for some reason. And most seem to feel similar to you.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I read it as part of a book club. It definitely wasn't a new favorite.

Unknown said...

I came across the blog while looking for images. For a little more background on Ernest Gaines and the novel, check out the Ernest J. Gaines Center's website (ernestgaines.louisiana.edu) and the blog we maintain (ernestgainescenter.blogspot.com). The blog has a few posts on the novel and the historical context. I would say Grant is kinda unlikable too. I think that's because he's confused in and of himself for most of the novel. It's a novel about him as much as it is about Jefferson.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Matthew Teutsch - Thank you so much for sharing that info! I'm definitely going to check the sites out.