A Lesson Before Dying



"All there was to see were old white weather-houses, with smoke rising out of the chimneys and drifting across the corrugated tin roofs overlooking the yard toward the field, where some of the cane had been cut. The cane had not been hauled to the derrick yet, and it was lying across the rows. A little farther over, where another patch of cane was standing, tall and blue-green, you could see the leaves swaying softly from a breeze.

“Left of the weighing scales and the derrick was the plantation cemetery, where my ancestors had been buried for the past century. The cemetery had lots of trees in it, pecans and oaks, and it was weedy too.”


“My classroom was the church. My desk was a table, used as a collection table by the church on Sundays, and also used for the service of the Holy Sacrament. My students’ desks were the benches upon which their parents and grandparents sat during church meeting. Ventilation into the church was by way of the four windows on either side, and from the front and back doors. There was a blackboard on the back wall. Behind my desk was the pulpit and the altar. This was my school.”

Ironically, Grant, an agnostic, spends most of his time in the church on the Henry Pichot Plantation. The school that he teaches in is the same place in which the town gathers on Sunday morning for praise and worship. Grant is continually challenged with the fact that he is an outsider in his place of work; he does not attend church with the rest of his settlement. Throughout the entire novel, this school is seen as a place of discrimination. Segregated schools provide another example of racial persecution.


"Bayonne was a small town of about six thousand. Approximately three thousand five hundred whites; approximately two thousand five hundred colored. It was the parish seat for St. Raphael. The courthouse was there; so was the jail. There was a Catholic church uptown for whites; a Catholic church back of town for colored. There was a white movie theater uptown; a colored movie theater back of town. There were two elementary schools uptown, one catholic, one public, for whites; and the same back of town for colored. Bayonne’s major industries were a cement plant, a sawmill, and a slaughterhouse, mostly for hogs. There was only one main street in Bayonne, and it ran along the St. Charles river."

Bayonne is a city in France; it's a fictional town in Louisiana.


"We followed him down a long, dark corridor, passing offices with open doors, and bathrooms for white ladies and white men. At the end of the corridor we had to go up a set of stairs. The stairs were made of steel. There were six steps, then a landing, a sharp turn, and another six steps. Then we went through a heavy steel door to the area where the prisoners were quartered. The white prisoners were also on this floor, but in a separate section. I counted eight cells for black prisoners, with two bunks to each cell. Half of the cells were empty, the others had one or two prisoners. They reached their hands out between the bars and asked for cigarettes or money. Miss Emma . She told them she didn’t have any money, but she had brought some food for Jefferson, and if there was anything left she would give it to them. They asked me for money, and I gave them the change I had."

Jail cell

"The cell was roughly six by ten, with a metal bunk covered by a thin mattress and a woolen army blanket; a toilet without seat or toilet paper; a washbowl, brownish from residue and grime; a small metal shelf upon which was a pan, a tin cup, and a tablespoon. A single bulb hung over the center of the cell, and at the end opposite the door was a barred window, which looked out onto a sycamore tree behind the courthouse. I could see the sunlight on the upper leaves. But the window was too high to catch sight of any other buildings or the ground."

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