The author of the book Ernest J. Gaines is an award winning author. Born and raised on a plantation in Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana. He used his growing up as a premise and setting for a lot of his works in the future. He grew up the oldest of 12 children, raised by their aunt who was crippled. He was born after slavery had ended but he grew up on an old plantation and was impoverished.
He got his basic education at a plantation church, which in the book “A Lesson Before Dying”, the main character taught reading, writing and arithmetic at an old church for a few months out of the year. He later went to a catholic school to continue learning due to his previous school only going up to Eighth grade at the time. At age fifteen he moved to Vallejo, California to rejoin his parents who had moved during The second World War. At age 17 he wrote his first novel while babysitting his little brother. He sent it to a New York publisher who later rejected. Gaines burned the manuscript but later rewrote it, which became his 1st published novel, Catherine Carmier.
In 1956 he published his 1st short story titled “Turtles”. In 1957 he earned his degree in literature from SFSU. After he served two years in the army he then attended Stanford University on a two year writing fellowship. Since 1984, Gaines has spent one half of the year in San Francisco and the half in Lafayette leading a creative writing workshop in autumn at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Gaines currently lives at the old plantation he grew up on with his wife and had the church he grew up in moved there.
Now in the book A lesson before dying, it is set in the 1940’s and a guy named Jefferson gets into a car with these two cars he knew while walking down the street. The guys decide they’re going go to the liquor store and the driver says that the old man that owns the store is going to let them pay him back because they have no money. When they proceed to the store they pick up a bottle and tell the man they have no money but they’ll pay him back. The old man says either you have money or you leave so the driver goes behind the counter and does something to the old man but the man grabs a gun and starts shooting and the other guy begins shooting. After it finishes, everyone is dead but Jefferson, who stands there in shock hears the old man calling him but Jefferson stands still.
The old man finally dies and Jefferson grabs a bottle of whiskey and begins drinking to calm his nerves. He finally realizes what happens and looks at the register and takes the cash since he figured no one would know. He grabs the whiskey and leaves as two white men walk in the shop. Now he is on trial and the public defender tries to free him but belittles him in the process calling him a little boy and nothing but a hog who is incapable of the planning a murder and robbery. The jury doesn’t move because it’s the 1940’s and during that time, two men word against one black man’s doesn’t help.
So he gets charged with a crime he didn’t commit and is sentenced to the chair. Jefferson’s god mom said she wants him to die a man, not a hog and asks her friends nephew who is a school teacher to help him become a man before dying. Hence the title “A Lesson Before Dying.” This story keeps you hooked and you may become attached to some of the characters, especially Jefferson. If you like books like “The Heart Of A Woman” by Maya Angelou then you will enjoy a book like “A Lesson Before Dying”.
This book uses very strong language and controversial language you may not feel comfortable with but that’s one of the things that makes this book so good. The structure of the book and the way it flows is very well done. Going into the book I expected to be entertained and enjoy the book based directly off the title of the book and because I heard the movie was good. All in all, this book met and exceeded my expectations and I have to say this is now one of my all time favorite books.
Author: Ernest J. Gaines
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
Publication Date: 1993