Ernest J. Gaines : A Lesson Before Dying
Œuvre au programme de lecture de l'épreuve orale d'anglais, langue de complément LV1, en série littéraire, pour l'examen du baccalauréat général, sessions 2006 et 2007
The Fiction of
Ernest J. Gaines
Jefferson, a black plantation boy of 21, living in 1940's Louisiana, is accused of murdering the white liquor store owner. In his defense, Jefferson's defense lawyer attempts to appeal to the racism of the jurors by calling Jefferson a hog. The attorney says, "Why I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this," (8). This is heard by his godmother, Miss Emma, and her friend, Tante Lou, who are sitting in the courtroom. Jefferson is, of course, sentenced to death. This causes Jefferson to believe himself to be an animal rather than a man, so Miss Emma and Miss Louise ask Grant, the narrator and teacher of the plantation school, to teach Jefferson that he is a man, and to walk to his death as such--the lesson before dying.
Selected online resources
Wikipedia: A Lesson Before Dying
Spark Notes: A Lesson Before Dying
Questions for Study: Random House Reading Group Center
Leslie Bradley's Study Guide and Project for A Lesson Before Dying
Audio Excerpts from ALD, read by Ernest J. Gaines
Monkey Notes Study Guide
Cliff Notes Study Guide
Video: Teacher Interview about studying A Lesson before Dying ann grappling with with Human Rights issues, the workings of the justice system, and the death penalty.
Video: Trailer of A Lesson Before Dying (From the New York Times website)
Gentlemen of the jury, look at him--look at him--look that this. Do you see a man sitting here? I ask you, I implore, look carefully--do you see a man sitting here? Look at the shape of this skull, this face as flat as the palm of my hand--look deeply into those eyes. Do you see a modicum of intelligence? Do you see anyone here who could plan a murder, a robbery, can plan--can plan--can plan anything? A cornered animal to strike quickly out of fear, a trait inherited from his ancestors in the deepest jungle of blackest Africa--yes, yes, that he can do--but to plan? To plan, gentlemen of the jury? No, gentlemen, this skull here holds no plans. What you see here is a thing that acts on command. A thing to hold the handle of a plow, a thing to load your bales of cotton, a thing to dig your ditches, to chop your wood, to pull your corn. That is what you see here, but you do not see anything capable of planning a robbery or a murder. He does not even know the size of his clothes or his shoes. Ask him to name the months of the year. Ask him does Christmas come before or after the Fourth of July? Mention the names of Keats, Byron, Scott, and see whether the eyes will show one moment of recognition. Ask him to describe a rose, to quote one passage from the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. Gentlemen of the jury, this man planned a robbery? Oh, pardon me, pardon me, I surely did not mean to insult your intelligence by saying 'man'--would you please forgive me for committing such an error?
Gentlemen of the jury, be merciful. For God's sake, be merciful. He is innocent of all charges brought against him. "But let us say he was not. Let us for a moment say he was not. What justice would there be to take this life? Justice, gentlemen,? Why, I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this.
I thank you, gentlemen, from the bottom of my heart, for your kind patience. I have no more to say, except this: We must live with our own conscience. Each and every one of us must live with his own conscience."
Copy right ©1993 by Ernest J. Gaines