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
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.