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"A Lesson Before Dying"

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Set in Louisiana in the 1940s, Ernest J. Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying (1993) transports the reader into the pre-Civil Rights era in the South, where the divide between races was as deep and free-flowing as the Mississippi River. Jefferson, a young uneducated black man, is called an animal and unjustly sentenced to death for a white storekeeper's murder.

The teacher at a former plantation's schoolhouse, Grant Wiggins, is asked to help Jefferson die like a man. Though Grant desperately wants to escape the poverty and racism of the parish, he is rooted to the area by a sense of duty and cannot break away. Using atmospheric prose and pitch-perfect dialogue, Gaines treats both his characters and the Louisiana countryside with honesty and understanding. The result is an evocative look at the brutality of racism and the power of compassion.


  • Bayonne, Louisiana, 1948

    A storeroom in the Parish Courthouse

  • A table in the Rainbow Club
  • A schoolroom
  • A bench in front of the Courthouse


The stage is set to accommodate the "Rainbow Club" at stage right. At stage left, a flag and desk serve as a classroom. Stage center serves as the storeroom to the Parish Courthouse. The character, Grant Wiggins, will move in plain sight, from one place to another throughout the play. Light fades. A cold light shines weakly through the window of the storeroom. The door at left opens. Enters Paul Bonin, Deputy Sheriff, in his twenties.



Lights come up on the Rainbow Club, where Vivian is wetting one end of a handkerchief in a glass of water. Grant sits by her as she soaks a lump on his forehead, not very gently.

SEE ALSO The Cast & Crew

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