Study Guide

A Lesson Before Dying Plot Analysis

By Ernest J. Gaines

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Plot Analysis

Exposition (Initial Situation)

The End of the Line

Jefferson, a black man from teacher Grant Wiggins' hometown, in Louisiana, has been sentenced to death by electrocution for supposedly committing murder during a robbery. The defense attorney attempts to get him off by saying sending him to the chair would be like killing a hog—he wouldn't even understand what he had done. This is a bleak way to start a novel and sorry, folks, it's not going to get too much cheerier.

Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)

Of Hogs and Men

Jefferson's godmother, Miss Emma, asks Wiggins to help turn her boy into a man by visiting him and teaching him. He is dead set against it, but his own aunt, Lou, is determined that he help her good friend out. This is not going to be easy—Jefferson calls himself an old hog and refuses to talk to his visitors.

Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)

Expiration Date

Once the date for Jefferson's execution is set, he calms down and starts talking to Mr. Wiggins. He doesn't look so hateful anymore. When Mr. Wiggins brings him pecans that the schoolchildren collected for him, he asks the teacher to thank him. For Grant that is a huge turning point in Jefferson's life.

Falling Action

We Could Be Heroes

With time ticking down, Grant is desperate to get Jefferson to be a man at his execution for his godmother's sake. He begs him to be a hero for all of the black people in the area by being strong and proving the white judge and jury right. We know that things are winding down because there is no escape for Jefferson, and the change that Grant saw in him when his date was set seems to have stuck.

Resolution (Denouement)

The Strongest Man in the Room

Jefferson has already shown Grant that he is a strong man, and everyone knows that he is going to die. So his execution is really just a matter of tying up the loose ends in the novel. A deputy tells Grant how it all went down, and that Jefferson was truly a man to the end. No hogs in sight.

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