Book Review, Books, Reading, Uncategorized


“I want you to show them the difference between what they think you are and what you can be.”
Ernest J. Gaines, A Lesson Before Dying

Whaaaat I actually have a review before 9 pm??? This is madness.

The book I read today was A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines. This book takes place in the 1940s, in a small Cajun community where one man, Jefferson, has just been convicted for murder. He was the unwilling member of a store robbery and shoot out that left him the only man alive to persecute.

Meanwhile, Grant Wiggins is a man who has returned from his college and taken up teaching at the school on what used to be the old plantation. Struggling with his decision to stay in town or to escape to another state, he is approached by Jefferson’s godmother and his aunt to talk to Jefferson while in prison, to teach him and convince him to face his death with pride.

While at first Wiggins struggles to make a connection with Jefferson, eventually the two men forge a bond as they come to understand what pride and heroism truly looks like, and how to break expectations that themselves and others have set.

“Do I know what a man is ? Do I know how a man is supposed to die ? I’m still trying to find out how a man should live. Am I supposed to tell someone how to die who has never lived ?”
Ernest J. Gaines, A Lesson Before Dying

So this book is one that I picked up because I felt like it was just another one that you have to read at some point in your life. It tackles a lot of the issues with the mentality in the 1940’s about racism and what white people expected black people to act like and the limitations on opportunities.

The main character, Wiggins, is smart. He’s been to college, he’s educated, and you can feel exactly how stifling it is for him to have to return to a town where he’s so limited with what he can and can’t do and does not get the respect that he deserves as an academic. It makes you want to both root for him to stay and stick through these trials and yell at him to just pack his bags and leave already.

His connection with Jefferson comes with as much surprise to the reader as it does to Wiggins, and there is that moment of triumph as they begin to talk and understand one another.

The ending is something that I particularly loved, because it’s perfect for the story. It doesn’t give us any kind of sustainable conclusion, yet it perfectly captures the tone of the novel and fits the story altogether.

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“I have no more to say except this: We must live with our own conscience.”
Ernest J. Gaines, A Lesson Before Dying


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