A Lesson Before Dying


Ernest Gaines

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A Lesson Before Dying Characters

Grant Wiggins

The local schoolteacher, narrator, and the protagonist of A Lesson Before Dying, Grant Wiggins is initially reluctant when Miss Emma Glenn and Tante Lou give him the task of talking to Jefferson before he’s… read analysis of Grant Wiggins


The defendant at the trial for the murder of Alcee Gropé, Jefferson is sentenced to death by electrocution. During the trial, his defense attorney argues that the jury should show Jefferson mercy because killing… read analysis of Jefferson

Tante Lou

Grant’s maternal grandmother, though he calls her his aunt. Tante Lou raised Grant’s mother, and after Grant’s parents moved to California, she raises Grant, as well. She is a pious woman and a devoted… read analysis of Tante Lou

Miss Emma Glenn

Jefferson’s elderly grandmother, or “nannan,” as he calls her, Miss Emma Glenn loves Jefferson to the point where his conviction and sentencing make her seriously ill, as does the fact that he has taken… read analysis of Miss Emma Glenn

The defense attorney

The white attorney who is charged with the task of defending Jefferson from execution for the crime of killing Alcee Gropé. The attorney paints a picture of Jefferson that Grant, Emma, and Reverend… read analysis of The defense attorney
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Henri Pichot

The wealthy, bigoted white man who reluctantly agrees to the sheriff to allow Miss Emma Glenn and Grant to visit Jefferson. For many years, Pichot employed both Tante Lou and Miss Emma in his… read analysis of Henri Pichot

Vivian Baptiste

Grant’s beautiful girlfriend, Vivian Baptiste, is a schoolteacher in Bayonne, the nearest town to Grant’s home. Vivian is also a mother, and has a husband, though they are in the process of getting… read analysis of Vivian Baptiste

Deputy Paul Bonin

A white deputy sheriff at the jail where Jefferson is held, and the only guard who treats Jefferson and Grant with respect. Paul shows many signs that he wants Grant to succeed in inspiring Jefferson… read analysis of Deputy Paul Bonin

Reverend Moses Ambrose

An influential minister in Grant and Jefferson's community, and a champion of faith and humility, Reverend Moses Ambrose takes an active role in Jefferson's life from the moment Jefferson is sentenced to death: he visits… read analysis of Reverend Moses Ambrose

Edna Guidry

Sam Guidry’s wife. She is one of the only white characters in the novel who shows respect for Black people, though even her respect is less than what one might desire. Edna is instrumental… read analysis of Edna Guidry

Matthew Antoine

The Creole man who taught Grant when Grant was a child, Matthew Antoine is a bitter, remorseful man who secretly despises Grant for daring to believe that he could use education to better himself. At… read analysis of Matthew Antoine
Minor Characters
Sheriff Sam Guidry
The white, racist sheriff who allows Grant, Emma, Tante Lou, and Reverend Ambrose to visit Jefferson in the months leading up to his execution. Guidry dislikes Grant because Grant refuses to act stupid or humble in Guidry’s presence.
Farrell Jarreau
A Black errand-runner and messenger who worked for Henri Pichot. Grant notes that, while Pichot tells him nothing, Farrell is highly skilled at gleaning information from Pichot’s conversations with other people.
Alcee Gropé
The owner of a store, Gropé is murdered shortly before the time when A Lesson Before Dying begins. Jefferson is tried and convicted of his murder, though it seems evident that he is innocent. The time between Jefferson’s sentencing and his execution takes up the majority of the novel.
One of Gropé’s two murderers.
One of Gropé’s two murderers
Inez Lane
Henri Pichot’s maid.
The two mulattoes
The two men with whom Grant fights at the Rainbow Club after overhearing them say that Jefferson’s execution should have happened much sooner.
Louis Rougon
Wealthy friend of Henri Pichot.
Joe Claiborne
Owner of the Rainbow Club.
Thelma Claiborne
Joe Claiborne’s wife.
Irene Cole
Grant’s student teacher. She may be in love with Grant.
Jefferson’s young cousin, and one of Grant’s students.
Dr. Joseph Morgan
The white superintendent of the school district in which Grant teaches.
Louis Washington, Jr.
An inarticulate, sloppy-looking student of Grant’s.
Gloria Hebert
A young, bright student of Grant’s.
Henry Lewis
One of the old men who delivers wood to Grant’s school at the beginning of the winter.
Amos Thomas
One of the old men who delivers wood to Grant's school at the beginning of the winter.
One of Vivian’s fellow teachers.
Joe Louis
The legendary Black boxer whose athletic success continues to provide inspiration for the African American community.
Jackie Robinson
The legendary Black baseball player who broke the color-barrier by playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Like Joe Louis, his athletic success inspires Black people in A Lesson Before Dying.
Miss Eloise Bouie
An elderly woman who is friends with Tante Lou and Miss Emma Glenn.
A fat man who is friends with Henri Pichot and a coworker of Sam Guidry’s.
Chief Deputy Clark
A bigoted white guard who watches Jefferson.
The mentally challenged grandson of Rita Lawrence, who has spent time in a mental institution.
Rita Lawrence
An elderly woman, the grandmother of Bok, who donates a sheet for Grant’s Christmas play.
Henry Williams
A local man, mentioned only twice in the novel, who acts as a witness for Jefferson’s execution.
Melvina Jack
A Black worker at Edwin’s Department Store.
Juanita deJean
A white worker at Edwin’s Department Store.
Fee Jinkins
A petty criminal who’s spending a month in jail at the time when Jefferson is executed.
Clay Lemon
A worker at Weber’s Café and Bar and Bait Shop.
Felix Weber
The owner of Weber’s Café and Bar and Bait Shop.
Claude Guerin
A special deputy assigned to help Sheriff Guidry on the day of Jefferson’s execution.
Oscar Guerin
A special deputy assigned to help Sheriff Guidry on the day of Jefferson’s execution.
A prisoner who Sheriff Guidry orders to shave Jefferson before his execution.
Henry Vincent
The executioner who pulls the switch at Jefferson’s execution.
Ofelia Jarreau
Farrell Jarreau’s mulatto wife.
Julia Lavonia
a local woman with two children in Grant’s school.
Sidney de Rogers
A local worker who notices the black truck carrying Jefferson’s electric chair.
George Jarreau
A local man, presumably related to Farrell Jarreau, though the novel never says how.
Lucy Jarreau
George Jarreau’s wife.