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A Lesson before Dying

by Ernest J. Gaines

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What is the main theme of Ernest J. Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying?

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This book has multiple themes throughout the text, so picking the central theme is going to be up to individual readers. I do think that the themes of race and prejudice should be among the possible top choices. Racial relations and the strain that they can cause effect just about every interaction and conversation that the characters have in A Lesson Before Dying. Take the following quote as an example:

"I have no idea." He stared at me, and I realized that I had not answered him in the proper manner. "Sir," I added.

Grant is forced to add "Sir" for no other reason than the fact that the other guy is white.

Based on the title alone, I also think that a central theme is a theme about death and mortality. The book begins with a murder and ends with an execution; however, the book itself focuses on what it means to die with dignity and honor as a human being.

"Do I know how a man who is supposed to die? [. . .] Am I supposed to tell someone how to die who has never lived?"

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"A Lesson Before Dying" has several main themes (most novels do).

One theme deals with the idea of justice. What is fair in the world? Is the world fair at all? Are justice and fairness even the same things?

The book also concerns itself with the Civil Rights Movement and racism. The book deals with racism not only between white and black people, but between people of mixed race.

The third major theme of the novel deals with God and religion, and its place in society. Jefferson is trying to understand his faith and his relationship with God throughout the novel.
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