Written in 1993, Ernest Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying takes us back to the 1940s South and young, innocent Jefferson sitting in a Louisiana jail waiting to be executed. His Tante Lou and Godmother Miss Emma are determined that he should die like a man. Their nephew Grant, the one-room school teacher, is sent to teach the despondent prisoner the lessons of life. Gripping, gritty and heartbreaking this novel goes to the depths of the soul yet takes us up to the universal meaning of life. I read this after finishing The Help and was caught by the similarities of each in dealing with treatment of blacks in pre-civil rights South. The passages of both are haunting and all too real. Gaines book has a slow paced feel that evokes the life of the men and women in the quarters of an old plantation. They are people caught in a powerless time who emerge as examples of strength and dignity. The Help was more plot focused while A Lesson Before Dying uses rich symbolism in setting and character development to reach the reader. Each book is a powerful conveyance of the African-American experience.
Mar 18, 2010