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A LESSON BEFORE DYING: CHAPTER SUMMARIES / LITERATURE NOTES
Grant’s memories of Joe Louis, and the men’s conversation about Jackie Robinson, conjure up an image of black athletes as Saint-like figures in the black community. Despite Robinson’s success as a ballplayer, he couldn’t even eat in the same restaurant with his teammates in some cities. Neither did his fame translate into greater civil rights for the average black man in the South. The condemned black man in Grant’s dreams cries to Joe Louis in the same way a Catholic in dire straits might call out to St. Joseph or St. Michael. These famous figures provide some measure of emotional or spiritual comfort, but they had no power to enact social change or bring about justice.
Grant again expresses his desire to run away from his problems, but
Vivian gives us another possible reason for his failure to leave. He loves
the people in the black community more than he hates the humiliation of
being black in the South.
The next day was Sunday, and Grant stayed at home while Aunt Tante Lou left for church. When he returned from college he told her he didn’t believe in religion, and his Aunt had given up trying to force him to attend. Grant sat at his desk listening to songs echoing out of the church and trying to grade papers, but his mind drifted back to last night’s events. It was late when he returned from Bayonne, but his Aunt, Miss Emma, and Reverend Ambrose were sitting in the front room waiting for him. He reported his visit, telling small lies about Jefferson’s response to the food and clothing. Reverend Ambrose asked what Grant thought Jefferson felt deep inside of him, if he was pondering the more spiritual issues of life. But Grant replied he didn’t know anything about the soul, which was more a matter for the Reverend to pursue with Jefferson anyway. Grant felt the Reverend looked down on him because he was no longer a believer. The three of them announced they would visit Jefferson together and take him a Bible.
As he listened to the singing coming from the church, Grant remembered
when he had been there singing right along with the choir. During college,
he spent all his time studying and had not had time for church. He didn’t
enjoy upsetting his Aunt and thought about leaving as Antoine had suggested,
but he felt he couldn’t. He pushed away the papers and listened to the
singing. On Determination Sunday it could go for hours, there was nothing
he could do but sit there and endure it or else leave and go for a walk.
Outside he heard a car door shut and when he looked up he saw Vivian walking
toward the door.
Religion begins to play a larger role in the story. Grant is constantly stating that he knows nothing about the soul, or about how a man is supposed to live; yet he is determined not to investigate the one field that claims to have the answers. Instead, he seeks answers from an embittered former teacher who has nothing substantial to offer on this subject.
The ‘termination songs serve as a metaphor for his life. He has only
two options, sit and listen to the song until church is out or leave the
house to seek refuge elsewhere. Neither of these options seem suitable
to him. In the same manner, he is unable to accept his life in his hometown,
and unable to leave and go out to California to make a new life.
Vivian entered the house and announced she’d left the children with a babysitter.
They sat and ate breakfast in the kitchen and then washed the dishes.
Grant suggested they go for a walk, so they wandered out of the quarter
and crossed the railroad tracks out into a sugarcane field. Grant cut
a stalk and they ate sugarcane together. Later they sat under a big pecan
tree eating pecans. They moved deep into the sugarcane field and made
love on a blanket in between the rows. Afterward, they talked about the
children they would have together and whether or not they wanted those
children to grow up here.
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Strate, Shane. "TheBestNotes on A Lesson Before Dying".
. 09 May 2017