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A Lesson before Dying

by Ernest J. Gaines

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How was life in 1940s Louisiana, considering the climate and housing?

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During the 1940's, life in Louisiana was mostly rural, except for New Orleans which a hub of trade, being on the gulf coast. Temperature was mainly hot, humid, tropical...a lot of people died from scarlet or yellow fever and other diseases.  Kate Chopin, a popular novelist (The Awakening) lived in the area and lost her husband to this tropical disease.  The soil conditions were great for growing sugar cane, cotton, and most other vegetables and crops grown by farmers.  There was a great deal of sharecropping going on...with the end of slavery, but with the big issue of color, many "free people of colour" who had owned slaves were wealthy.  There were, and still are a large number of antebellum plantations owned by whites mainly, but also many "free people of colour" who were given land and plantations by their previous owners and lovers.  The people of New Orleans and south and central Louisiana consisted of a large number of Creoles (a mixture of Africans, Indians, Spanish and French); Cajuns (Canadian Indians who migrated down to Louisiana), Native Americans, Spanish and French people who all made up (and still do) the laignappe that is the mystery of Louisiana.  Natchitoches is the oldest settlement in Louisiana (site of the annual Natchitoches Christmas Festival); legend has it that is is named after two twin sons of an Indian chief; the sons were fighting over land; father told each to pick up his teepee and move so many paces east and west, thus we have Natchitoches, Louisiana and Nacadoches, Texas.  Being from Louisiana, I can write on this topic for stop me now!  By the way, Natchitoches is just a few hours north of where the story A Lesson Before Dying takes place, around Alexandria or somewhere south of there.

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