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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 ANALYSIS / CHAPTER SUMMARY

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Summary

Jefferson was characteristically apathetic when the Sheriff approached him about visiting his family in the day room, but he agreed. The next day Miss Emma set a table to have lunch in the day room with Jefferson, but he refused to eat any of the food, even when Miss Emma tried to feed it to him. A couple of day later Grant visited him in the same day room, Jefferson came in wearing handcuffs and shackles. As Grant set out the food Jefferson asked what it was he wanted when he came to visit. Jefferson suggested they talk about the electric chair, but Grant started talking about the school Christmas program instead. They talked about how Jesus was born at Christmas time and died at Easter. Then Grant tried to explain the meaning of obligations, and how Jefferson had an obligation to show his Miss Emma some love when she came to visit him. Jefferson responded that he was only a hog, and hogs donít have emotions. Grant realized he wasnít reaching him, and waited quietly until it was time to go.

Grant stayed in Bayonne until it was time for Vivian to be out of school, then picked her up and went back to the Rainbow club. Grant was feeling quite depressed, so they decided to cancel their trip to Baton Rouge. Again, he offered to drop everything and leave if she would just give the word. Again, she refused. Grant complained that what he was doing wasnít making any difference. Vivian disagreed.

Notes

Jefferson is preoccupied with the time of Jesusí birth and death. Gaines portrays him as a Christ-like figure that will go like a lamb to the slaughter. Mathew Antoine assures Grant that nothing he does will change things, but Vivian is the opposite. She sees that Grant is changing, even if Jefferson is not.



CHAPTER NINETEEN

Summary

It was cold and rainy the day of the Christmas program. Despite the weather, there was a good turnout. When Reverend Ambrose opened with prayer he asked God to bless the unbelievers, meaning Grant. The children sang Christmas songs and read poems. They had also decorated a little pine tree a placed a single gift underneath it. Grant had instructed the children to dedicate their performance to Jefferson, and the gift was a sweater and wool socks for him. Last of all was the Nativity pageant, with a white alabaster doll as the Christ child. Afterwards, the children lined up back stage to hear what Grant thought of the performance. He remarked that it had all gone well, but inside he was not happy. The play had been the same this year as it was every year. The play involved the same mistakes in grammar, the same costumes, refreshments, and people. He knew next year that it would be the same still. Vivian believed things were changing, but Grant couldnít see how they were changing. He stood alone and looked at the present under the tree.

Notes

The Christmas program symbolizes the hopeless outlook of black life in the South. Despite his efforts, Grant sees that these children will have lives exactly like their parents, who had lives exactly like their parents. He feels there is little point in continuing to teach if black will always be uneducated field workers and second-class citizens. These reflections haunt and isolate Grant, he sits by himself with a plate of food while everyone else mingles together.


CHAPTER TWENTY

Summary

In February, Grant was grading papers in the school when Farrel Jareau entered and informed him that he was wanted at the Pichot house right away. Grant left a student in charge and walked up to the house. When he arrived he found Reverend Ambrose already waiting in the kitchen. A few minutes later the Sheriff arrived and Inez (the maid) came into the kitchen to say they need to go up front. In his whole life, Grant had never been in any other room but the kitchen. He and the Reverend sat down on the couch as the Sheriff informed them that the Governor had set the date. Jefferson would be executed the second Friday after Easter. Sheriff Guidry had already informed Jefferson, who took the news calmly. Grant would still be allowed to visit the prison, but was warned to avoid aggravating Jefferson. On the Reverendís recommendation, the Sheriff calls to ask Dr. Gillory to visit Miss Emma after she received the news. During the phone conversation, Grant ponders how Jefferson came to be sentenced to death the same time as the Savior. As they left, Reverend Ambrose headed to Miss Emmaís house, but Grant was not ready to face her. He began walking down to the river, and didnít return home until it was almost dark.

Notes

Grant is constantly complaining that helping Jefferson gives the white men an opportunity to humiliate him. Yet when Sheriff Guidry needs to inform Grant and Reverend Ambrose about the date of execution, Henri Pichot brings the two black men from the kitchen into his living room. This is an unprecedented show of respect, which elevates the status of both men. Furthermore, Jeffersonís execution date is close to Easter-time, hinting that he is to be a Savior-like figure to the people in the quarter.


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