Free Study Guide: A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines - Free BookNotes|
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A LESSON BEFORE DYING: FREE CHAPTER SUMMARY / BOOK NOTES
From the trial’s beginning there was no doubt to the outcome. We are led to believe that Jefferson is innocent of murder, although guilty of robbery. But In 1940’s Louisiana, there is little chance of a black man charged with killing a white storeowner being acquitted by a white jury. Jefferson will die, and nothing can stop that now.
Jefferson seems to be a good person, but extremely slow-witted. In his
futile attempt to gain an acquittal, the defense attorney has furthered
humiliated Jefferson and his family by comparing his client to a hog.
These comments reveal the prevalent Southern stereotype that black
men were somehow more than animals, but less than men. Notice Grant does
not attend the trial.
When Grant returned home from school later that day he saw his Aunt Tante Lou and Miss Emma, Jefferson’s godmother, at the kitchen table. Miss Emma was the last person he wanted to see, since he and everyone else in the quarter knew what the verdict would be. He tried to avoid them by going quickly to his room and sitting down quietly to grade papers. Moments later his Aunt entered and asked him to come talk with Miss Emma. When he sits down, Miss Emma is starting out the window mumbling about how they called Jefferson a hog. She knows that Jefferson will die, but she wants him to die like a man instead of animal. Since Grant is a university graduate, and the town’s black teacher, she wants him to take her place and visit Jefferson in the prison. Miss Emma would like Grant to help prepare Jefferson for the electric chair, so that he can die with dignity.
Grants protest, saying there’s nothing he can do for Jefferson. The
best he can hope to accomplish is to keep other black children from ending
up in prison. But his Aunt insists he will do it, or find another place
to live. Granted wanted to scream. He hated this small town. He hated
teaching, and felt like he was going nowhere. He needed to go to Bayonne
tonight, where he could breathe. But Miss Emma and his Aunt are determine
to go visit Henri Pichot, whose brother-inlaw is the sheriff, and Grant
goes with them.
The exchange between Grant and the two women forms the beginning of the plot in this novel. Miss Emma has raised Jefferson since he was a baby, and as she says, she didn’t raise him to act like a hog. She is in her last years, and watching Jefferson go to the chair with his head held high is all the satisfaction she can hope for after years of parenting. Somehow Grant must instill a sense of hope in both Jefferson and Miss Emma as both inch closer towards the grave.
This is our first real look at Grant, the narrator and protagonist in the
story. Like the other black characters in the novel, he’s unhappy with
his life, but for a different reason. He has a university degree and teaches
the black school in town. But He hates this town, he hates teaching, and
he feels like he’s running in place. He tells his Aunt he plans on going
“to Bayonne where I can breathe...I can’t breathe here.” (Page 14). He
feels trapped, both by the racism that exists in his community and by
the expectations of his aunt.
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Strate, Shane. "TheBestNotes on A Lesson Before Dying".
. 09 May 2017