Free Study Guide: A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines - Free BookNotes|
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A LESSON BEFORE DYING: FREE BOOK SUMMARY NOTES / ANALYSIS
Grant expresses his fatalist leanings while walking around the schoolroom.
He sees himself making very little difference in his student’s lives,
believing instead that the paths of their lives have already been determined
by the household economics of their families. This belief in fate governs
his life as well. No matter how hard he struggles, outside forces will
always dictate his existence.
Grant arrives at the Pichot’s back door at ten minutes to five and Inez, the black housemaid, lets him in. She informs him that the white men in the other room are taking bets on whether or not Grant can get Jefferson ready for his execution. Although he had not eaten all day, Grant refused the dinner Inez offered him. He would endure the humiliation of waiting for the Sheriff in the kitchen because of his Aunt and Miss Emma, but he would not eat at his kitchen table. At five-thirty Grant heard guests arriving at the house, and at six o’clock Mrs. Guidry, the Sheriff’s wife, came into the kitchen. She mentioned how sorry she was for Miss Emma. When she leaves, Grant continues to stand in the kitchen. By six-thirty Inez reports that Sheriff Guidry asked if Grant was still here, and that he’s against letting Grant visit Jefferson in prison.
By seven-thirty Sheriff Guidry came into the kitchen followed by Henri
Pinchot and two other men who’d come in to watch the Sheriff make sport
of Grant. Grant tried to decide whether he should act like the nigger
they expected or the teacher he was. He decided to wait and see how things
developed. As the Sheriff asked why he wanted to meet, Grant realized
that hey had already discussed the matter in the other room and that the
Sheriff had already made up his mind regardless of how Grant answered.
Still, Grant had to go through the motions of explaining why Miss Emma
wanted him to visit Jefferson. The Sheriff questioned Grant about his
intentions and whether or not he could make Jefferson a man, all in an
effort to make him look foolish in front of the other guests. In the end,
the Sheriff agreed to let Grant visit Jefferson even though he thought
the whole idea was a waste of time. He promised that Grant couldn’t put
anything in Jefferson’s head that wasn’t there already.
During his conversation, Grant has to walk a very fine line. He doesn’t want to deprecate himself by acting like an Uncle Tom, but he also knows that acting too intelligent could be very dangerous. He ends every sentence with ‘sir’, and only answers to direct question from the sheriff. However, he refuses to play the smiling servant. When the sheriff asks him how long he’s been waiting, instead of giving the expected answer ‘not long’ he answers honestly that he’s been there two and a half hours. In response to Guidry’s question “...which one do you think is right (my wife) or me?” Grants cleverly retorts that he makes it a policy never to get involved in family disagreements. This irritates both the sheriff and his posse, who were hoping to see Grant caught in a trap of logic.
We can add the Sheriff to the list of characters who believe one should accept
the status quo, since thrashing about trying to improve the situation
will only make things worse. (Of course, it’s only logical for the upper
class to preach acceptance of the existing social structure.) In his mind,
Jefferson is a hog and he should go to the chair as a contented hog instead
of having his mind stirred up by new ideas. In this way he unknowingly
plays upon Grant’s own misgivings about the prison visits. Inside, Grant
doubts that he can make a difference to Jefferson, or that a person with
his background can hope to rise above his circumstances and act like a
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Strate, Shane. "TheBestNotes on A Lesson Before Dying".
. 09 May 2017