A Lesson before Dying by Earnest Gaines

The events reflect the life and aspirations of Ernest J. Gaines. In the novel, he skillfully depicts the land: “Above, a low ashen sky loomed over the plantation, if not over the entire state of Louisiana. A swarm of blackbirds flew across the road and alighted in a pecan tree in one of the backyards …” (Gaines 107). The author was born in 1933 during the heart of the depression, in Oscar, Louisiana, and worked his early years in the rural plantation fields that later wind through his fiction (Budd 3). Similar to the main characters of the book, Grant Wiggins, Jefferson, Miss Emma, Tante Lou and others, Gaines knew early the bittersweet life of the southern black family and community, broken and reset, pained and healing, and recalls himself working at age nine as a field hand-chopping in hardscrabble for fifty cents a day (Budd 6). “By focusing his narrative on the execution of an innocent man, … Gaines is able to explore the structure of the community association and to imply the possibility for social change” (Folks 259). Like Grant Wiggins, he came to his calling young, because Gaines was one of the few on the old place who had the gift of language. His halting words kept his people in tenuous contact with themselves and a larger world, and they kept him busy, interpreting official notices, writing letters, reading the Bible aloud, or dramatizing newspaper accounts of brighter lives, black and white, that brought hope.
The plantation is depicted as an isolated world ordered by its own rules and principles. Hated by black and white, they have only recently worked up to the land from the bayous, and they hold on tenaciously. The "old ways" become doubly important in their eyes. :” Jefferson is a dynamic character who, along with Grant Wiggins, Tante Lou, Miss Emma, and others, becomes a center of agency in the novel by virtue of his decision to reject a victimized status”.