Study Guide

A Lesson Before Dying Chapter 1

By Ernest J. Gaines

Chapter 1

  • The narrator tells about a trial that he says he did go to but didn't go to. Yeah, it's not clear to us either, but it seems like he didn't actually physically go, but that the story was so well known in the community that it's almost as if he did go. Try that excuse out next time you don't feel like going to class. No, wait, don't do that. It won't end well.
  • He describes the defendant's godmother, who sat beside the narrator's aunt at the trial.
  • It turns out that a white man had been killed during the robbery of a liquor store, and the defendant was the only survivor after things got violent.
  • The defendant went with two guys, Brother and Bear, to a liquor store, the White Rabbit Bar and Lounge, and Brother and Bear tried to buy a bottle on credit.
  • The storekeeper, Mr. Gropé, refused to let them have it until they paid in full.
  • When Bear started going behind the counter Mr. Gropé shot at him with a revolver. Someone else shot back, and in the end Mr. Gropé, Brother, and Bear were dead.
  • The defendant didn't know what to do and suddenly Mr. Gropé started calling to him, "Boy?"
  • The defendant, whose name is Jefferson, asks Mr. Gropé to tell the police that it wasn't him that shot him.
  • Mr. Gropé died before he could talk to the police.
  • Jefferson was scared and grabbed a bottle of whiskey and took a drink for courage. Then he saw that the cash register was open and, since he had no money, even though he knew it was wrong, grabbed some.
  • Just then two white men walked into the store.
  • In the trial, the prosecutor claims that Jefferson, Brother, and Bear had planned the robbery and murder.
  • Jefferson's lawyer says that there was no conspiracy, but that Jefferson had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • To prove his point, Jefferson's lawyer tells the jury that his client is not a man, but a fool. He is someone who can do manual labor, but not someone who is smart enough to plan a robbery or a murder. Yeah, we would be offended too.
  • The defense attorney points out Jefferson's godmother and tells the jury that her reason for living will be gone if they find Jefferson guilty.
  • Then, the defense attorney says that it would make just as much sense to send a hog to the electric chair as Jefferson. Yes, you read right. He compares Jefferson to a hog.
  • The jury finds Jefferson guilty, and the next week the judge sentences him to death by electrocution.