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Free Study Guide: A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines - Free BookNotes

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A LESSON BEFORE DYING: LITERARY CRITICISM / FREE BOOKNOTES

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Summary

As they walked back, Vivian asked Grant when he would see Jefferson again. She wanted to know when they were going to execute him, but the Governor still had not set the date. As they approached the house, they noticed people coming out of church. Vivian suggested she leave before Aunt Tante Lou came home, but Grant wanted her to stay. She wanted Grant’s family and friends to like her, since her own family had not approved of her first husband. The atmosphere was tense as Grant introduced Vivian to Aunt Tante Lou and her friends from church. Grant and his aunt got into an argument over who would make more coffee, while their uneasy guests sat in the next room. Aunt Tante Lou asked Vivian about her family and background while Grant made the coffee. Grant and Vivian served the ladies coffee and cake and then went to sit out on the porch. Before she left, she said good-bye to the ladies from church. Aunt Tante Lou pronounced her a woman of quality, and reminded her never to give up God.

Notes

Vivian is a very light skinned woman; she grew up in a town full of mulattoes called Free LaCove. Like Grant’s teacher, Mathew Antoine, the people of Free LaCove thought they were better than anyone with darker-skin. When Vivian married a dark-skinned man she met at college her family never forgave her for marrying beneath her ‘race’. When she returned home with her dark-skinned baby, none of her relatives would pick the baby up or even acknowledge it. When they first meet, Tante Lou asks Vivian if she doesn’t like dark-skinned people. Vivian replies that she is not like other people in Free LaCove. To prove that she does not feel superior to Tante Lou, Vivian serves the cake and coffee. This makes a big impression with the ladies at the church.


CHAPTER SIXTEEN


Summary

As Grant walked around the schoolyard at the end of the day, he saw his aunt, Miss Emma, and the reverend go walking into Miss Emma’s house. He knew they had just returned from visiting Jefferson. He was grading papers after school when a boy came running up with a message that he should stop by at Miss Emma’s house on his way home. When he arrived at her home, Miss Emma accused Grant of not telling her the truth about his visit with Grant. He learned later that Jefferson had refused to acknowledge her presence. At the prison, she presented him with clothing and food and he had asked for some corn because that’s what hogs eat. Jefferson told her they were fattening him up for the slaughter, and Miss Emma slapped him and burst into tears.

Miss Emma sat at the kitchen table and asked what she had done to the Master to deserve this. Tante Lou and the Reverend assured her that God did not hate her. Miss Emma told Grant he needed to go back, although Grant assured them he wasn’t making any difference to Jefferson. Eventually, he gave up and went to his room.

Notes

When describing their visit with Jefferson, Tante Lou described how Jefferson’s eyes were “just blank, blank.” He looked at the women without seeing them. He is empty inside, a person devoid of hope or feeling.


CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Summary

During that week something changed inside Grant so that he didn’t feel angry all the time. When he visited the jail on Friday he decided to ask Paul, the youngest of the deputies, about Jefferson’s daily routine. He found out that Jefferson ate some of the food Miss Emma brought him and gave the rest to the other prisoners. The prison fed him twice a day, and he didn’t talk to anyone else on the block.

When Grant sits down in the cell, Jefferson again refuses to eat the food he brought with him. Grant explained that Miss Emma had come back from the prison crying, but Jefferson showed no concern. He remarked that Grant would be acting the same way if her were on death row, but Grant responded that it doesn’t help anyone to break Miss Emma’s heart like that. Jefferson was getting irritated. He wanted to insult Grant. He threatened to scream for Guidry and finally resorted to slurring Vivian to see what kind of a response he could get. Grant would have hit any other man for saying that, but he recognized Jefferson’s expression of pain for what it was. He let Jefferson know that Vivian was the only reason he kept coming to visit the jail. Unable to provoke Grant, Jefferson turned around and knocked the bag off food off the bed, spilling it across the cell.

By the time Paul came back, Grant had picked up all the food, but he and Jefferson hadn’t exchanged another word. Paul told him that the Sheriff wanted to see him in his office. Apparently, Miss Emma and Tante Lou had visited the Sheriff’s wife. They asked her to talk to the Sheriff in the hopes that they could visit Jefferson in the dayroom so they could all sit down. Sheriff Guidry seemed convinced that Grant had masterminded the entire affair, but Grant assured them he knew nothing about it. Finally, Guidry agreed to allow Jefferson to go to the dayroom, but promised he would be shackled the entire time.

Notes

This chapter represents a breakthrough in two ways. First, Grant strikes up a conversation with Paul, a prison deputy and the only non-racist white person in the novel. Paul allows Grant to maintain a little dignity when visiting the prison, and also proves to be a useful source of information on Jefferson’s behavior between visits.

The confrontation between Grant and Jefferson is also a step forward, because it is Jefferson’s first real display of emotion since being convicted. For the first time he’s expressing the anger he feels at life for what has happened to him, and he makes Vivian the object of his anger. Jefferson somehow manages to control his temper, since he knows if there’s trouble the Sheriff will stop the visits. As Grant explains, Jefferson wouldn’t do anything to end the visits either. He needed Grant there, if only to insult him.


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