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A Lesson Before Dying Study Questions

Instructor: Jason Lineberger

Jason has 20 years of education experience including 14 years of teaching college literature.

'A Lesson Before Dying' is a novel that deals with racism, injustice, the effects of the past, and the possibility of change, among other themes. This study guide contains questions that cover the book, from basic plot points to inferring themes.

A Lesson Before Dying

A Lesson Before Dying is a novel by Ernest J. Gaines set in a small community in the segregated Deep South of the 1940s. The book follows the story of Grant Wiggins, a local teacher, who is asked to help a wrongfully-convicted murderer find his dignity. The questions below cover the plot and characters of the novel, before moving on to ones that examine the big ideas of the book.

Factual Recall Questions

  • Describe the events of the crime that Jefferson is convicted of committing. How was Jefferson caught?
  • Describe Grant Wiggins, Tante Lou, and Miss Emma. What are the important details about these characters?
  • Jefferson's lawyer compares him to what animal during the trial?
  • How does the lawyer's comparison affect Jefferson's attitude?
  • For the first several visits Jefferson refuses to interact with Grant. Why does he refuse at first? How does Grant attempt to break through to Jefferson?
  • Grant brings Jefferson a journal. What does Jefferson journal about, at first? What does he write about later?
  • Grant's girlfriend, Vivian, is not fully satisfied with their relationship while Grant is visiting Jefferson. What are her complaints?
  • Reverend Ambrose and Grant have some differences of opinion. What causes their main conflict?
  • Grant makes the case to Jefferson that he is important. Why does Grant think Jefferson is such an important figure?
  • Why is Grant crying at the end of the novel?

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