A young black man is soon to be put in the electric chair, but the fact that he is innocent is not important in Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying. The question is will he face death like a man, or like a dumb animal, a hog, as his defense attorney carelessly characterized him.
The story takes place in a small Louisiana town during the 1940's, when all-white male juries commonly found accused black men guilty
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execution, the day that all blacks stay home from work, most of them on their knees. "He [Jefferson] was the bravest man in that room today."
Gaines openly exposes many conflicts between the blacks in A Lesson Before Dying, but all under a cloud of the white supremacy which still exists. The book, written in 1993, became the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award For Fiction and was also selected by Oprah's Book Club.