Study Guide

A Lesson Before Dying Coming of Age

By Ernest J. Gaines

Coming of Age

When Jefferson, one of the characters in A Lesson Before Dying, is sentenced to death by electrocution he has to grow up fast before he faces his fate. He starts off as a 21-year-old, but in his six-month journey from free young man to executed prisoner he evolves. The key relationship in the novel, between the narrator, Grant, and Jefferson, revolves around Grant trying to help Jefferson become a man so he can die proud. But this isn't just a one-sided relationship: Grant learns a lot too.

Questions About Coming of Age

  1. Why do you think that Jefferson's attitude changes so drastically after his execution date is set?
  2. Do you think that Jefferson would have grown up to become a mature, responsible man if he hadn't been sent to jail and executed?
  3. Who do you think learns more from their meetings, Grant or Jefferson? Why?

Chew on This

Jefferson's transformation is only superficial; he hasn't really had the experience necessary to become an adult.

Jefferson's transformation depends upon other people expecting better of him; without society's help he would never grow up.

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