Study Guide

A Lesson Before Dying Mortality

By Ernest J. Gaines

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Well, if you can't figure out from the title, A Lesson Before Dying has something to do with the act of dying. In this case the theme of death shows up first in a murder, and then ends with an execution. One of the book's major issues is how to die as a mature human being, even if it's under unfair, inhumane conditions. It's not just about the person who dies, either; it's also about the way that other people deal with their loved ones' mortality. Yeah, this book will make you cry (and think).

Questions About Mortality

  1. Besides Jefferson, what other characters can you identify who have a lesson to learn before dying? What are their lessons?
  2. Why do you think that no one contests the state's decision to execute Jefferson?
  3. When Jefferson finally does die, how does it affect Grant?
  4. How would the story be different if Jefferson were not sentenced to death, but rather to life in prison?

Chew on This

The title of the novel refers to the lesson that Grant must teach Jefferson before his death.

The title of the novel refers to the lesson that Miss Emma wants to see Jefferson learn before his death.

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