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The novel is set in bayou country, Louisiana during the 1940s. This was a pivotal time in America: a time of war abroad and in the South (for civil rights). The Jim Crow era was a time of segregation, and Gaines shows the disparity primarily in the education system. It would not be until 1954 with the Brown. vs. Board of Ed. that schools in the South would be made to integrate.
Grant Wiggins, the novel's narrator, is a school teacher who ironically learns from an uneducated "subhuman," Jefferson, who is about to be executed. The execution is to be on April 8, two weeks after Good Friday and the Easter holiday. T.S. Eliot said, "April is the cruelest month," as Gaines well attests. Grant, though not reborn, does break down and cry at the end, after reading Jefferson's journal.
If you look at the back of the book:
"A LESSON BEFORE DYING is set in a small Cajun community in the late 1940s."
The town is near Bayonne, a fictional city if Louisiana. This is mentioned in the preface-ish thing.
A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines is set in Louisiana's rural South and the events occur in the year 1948. This was after the Second World War, but before the Civil Rights Movement took effect in America. African Americans were still being subjected to slavery. They worked in the plantations on a daily basis and suffered myriad injustices. Point Coupee Parish, the small fictional town in Louisiana with Bayonne as its parish seat, is where the events unfolded, and also shows the level of segregation in the South. There were two separate public facilities for the different races, movie theaters, schools and even churches catering to whites and coloreds separately. In the story, a young black man is tried for murder, and although he is innocent he is eventually executed.
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