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A Lesson before Dying

by Ernest J. Gaines

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How does the setting affect the plot of A Lesson Before Dying?

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Ernest Gaines's novel, A Lesson Before Dying is set in Louisiana.  There,  the main character, a young black man of diminished mental capacities named Jefferson finds himself in a liquor store after the two men with whom he rode decide to rob it.  Unfortunately, the owner and the two men have been killed.  So, when white men enter the store and Jefferson is standing with bottles in his hand, he is arrested, tried, and sentenced to death by a white jury.

The setting of Louisiana in the 1940s before integration clearly determines the direction of the plot of Gaines's narrative.  With the theme of the destructive powers of racism, the time and place of A Lesson Before Dying is of much importance.  Jefferson is summarily sentenced to die and faced with no hope of appeal.

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