Study Help Essay Questions


1. Explore one of the following topics presented in the novel:


Blacks and the Criminal Justice System

The Pre-Civil Rights South

The Myth of White Supremacy

The Concept of Heroism

Bonding Between Black Men

The Role of the Black Church

The Legacy of Slavery

The Role of Education in the South

The Role of Teachers

The Black Family and the Black Community


Racial Pride/Racial Consciousness

The Search for Black Male Identity

The Concept of Manhood

The Plantation System

2. Discuss the significance of one of the following symbols:

food as a celebration of life

the plantation school

the white picket fence surrounding the plantation school

the statue of the Confederate soldier and the Confederate flag outside the St. Raphael courthouse

the Pledge of Allegiance

the dayroom

the radio

Jefferson's diary

Henri Pichot's plantation

3. Gaines has said that listening to the blues and jazz "has had as much of an impact on my writing as the works of other writers." Cite specific passages in the novel that demonstrate this influence and discuss their impact on the story.

4. Read James Joyce's "Ivy Day in the Committee Room." Why do you think Gaines included a discussion of this short story in his novel? What lessons does Grant learn from the story? From his professor?

5. What role do Creoles play in the novel? What is Grant's perspective of them? Why?

6. Some critics contend that Grant perpetuates the system of racism and exploitation. Write an essay to support or refute this argument.

7. Throughout the novel, characters learn various "lessons." Discuss the lessons learned by one of the following characters: Grant Jefferson Rev. Ambrose Grant's students Paul Sheriff Guidry

8. Explore the role of language in the novel. Consider the use of Standard English versus black vernacular and regional dialect; body language; and the language of silence.

9. Gaines has said "All my works deal with the black male attempting to exceed his limits." Explore this theme in one of Gaines' earlier novels or short stories.

10. Gaines' work has been criticized for his use of "passive" characters who don't fight back against the injustices of their environment. Based on your reading of A Lesson Before Dying, write an essay to support or refute this theory.

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