Georg Engel's Ernest J. Gaines: A Lesson Before Dying To understand or not to understand, that is the question...

The Stage Is Set (Exposition)

Part I

(chapts 1-6)

It is advisable to deal with the first six chapters in greater detail, because they develop the entire action and are essential for a deeper understanding of the novel. This is particular true of chapter 1 on the trial, which, in retrospect, summarizes events before the trial (the robbery and shooting of Gropé), “shows” the trial (in which the defense lawyer calls Jefferson a "hog" unfit to sit on the electric chair) and sets the stage for all the following events: in chapt. 2 it becomes clear that Miss Emma, Jefferson's godmother ("nannan"), wants Jefferson to die like a man walking ptoudly on his feet to the electric chair. Teacher Grant Wiggins, her friend Tante Lou's nephew, is supposed to achieve that goal. By the end of chapt. 6, Grant has got visiting rights to the jail and can start his mission, which he so much loathes and which he can't see as successful.