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

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A LESSON BEFORE DYING: FREE ONLINE NOTES DOWNLOAD

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

Summary

That night when Grant arrived at Miss Emma’s house it was crowded with people, but Miss Emma was in bed. He went into her bedroom to ask how she was, but she didn’t answer. Reverend Ambrose was sitting at the table, and Grant guessed he and his Aunt had been talking about him. He went home to eat his dinner, and while he was sitting at the table he saw Vivian coming up to the door. They lay together on the bed for a while before deciding they should go back to Miss Emma’s house together. Vivian entered Miss Emma’s bedroom and whispered something into the old woman’s ear that made her smile. Irene Cole, on of Grant’s students, gave Vivian both a cup of coffee and a jealous look. Back in the bedroom, Miss Emma pleaded with Grant and Reverend Ambrose to work together, since she wouldn’t be able to go back to the jail for a while.

Vivian and Grant left the house and drove down to the Rainbow Club in Bayonne. As soon as they got their drinks Vivian mentioned she thought Irene Cole was in love Grant. He replied that lots of women in the quarter were in love with him, and probably didn’t appreciate an outsider taking him away from them. He explained that all black women simply want a man who will stand up for them, a man they can be proud of. In Grant these women see an educated man who can give them something their father and grandfathers never could, but by trying to hold on to him, they will break him. His only option is to run away, like others before him. Only Jefferson can break that cycle.

Notes


Grant’s explanation attempts to give the black women’s perspective of the cruel dilemma that confronts all black men in the South. If they stay with their women, they are broken by racism and cruelty and fail to be men any longer. If they run away they abandon their women to raise the next generation of men alone. Because he is educated, Grant feels the weight of the hops of all the women in the quarter. He considers himself unable to live up to these expectations. But because there are almost not expectations for Jefferson, perhaps he can achieve something Grant could not if he goes to the chair like a man.


CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

Summary

By now Grant’s visits to the jail had become routine, but Paul still had to search him when he arrived at the jail the next day. He could tell Paul didn’t want to do it, but the Chief deputy sat behind them, watching. As they walked towards Jefferson’s cell, Paul asked if Grant wanted him to stay nearby, saying sometimes prisoners became dangerous after discovering the date of their execution. But Grant knew Jefferson wasn’t dangerous. The first thing Jefferson asked when Granted entered the cell was what day it would be. Grant told him it was a Friday. Jefferson had decided he wanted ice cream on his last day. He’d never had enough ice cream in whole life, and so on that last day he would get a whole gallon and eat it with a pot spoon. Grant updated him on some of the news from the quarter, but he noticed Jefferson wasn’t really listening.

Suddenly Grant asked him if he’d like a radio there in the prison so that he could listen to Randy’s Record Shop late at night. Jefferson showed a little interest in the idea. Not having any money with him, Grant went to the Rainbow club to see if he could collect some. Claiborne, the owner of the Rainbow Club lent him half and the lady who owned the restaurant next door gave him the other half. Grant went to store and picked out a brand new radio, then took it over to the jail. When he entered the office, the Sheriff reminded him that he needed to ask permission before brining things in. Grant went back to the Rainbow Club and waited for Vivian to get off work.

Notes

The radio is symbolic of the communication between Grant and Jefferson. It represents the first outside influence that Jefferson allows into his cell and symbolically ends his self-imposed isolation.


CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

Summary

A few weeks later Miss Emma visited the jail and set up a ‘picnic’ meal in the dayroom. Jefferson, however, refused to come down to the dayroom, preferring instead to stay in his cell listening to the radio. Even when Miss Emma packed up the food and took it up to his cell he lay on his bed facing the wall until Miss Emma finally shut off the radio. After forty-five minutes of silence, Paul came up to say the Sheriff wanted to meet with them. Sheriff Guidry was upset they were meeting in the cell when he had authorized their dayroom use. He warned them to work together or he’d stop the visits and take the radio.

Aunt Tante Lou, Reverend Ambrose and Miss Emma confronted Grant as soon as he got home. The Reverend felt that ‘sin box’ would distract Jefferson from thinking about his personal salvation. Grant responded that he had finally found a way to reach Jefferson; the soul was Reverend Ambrose’s work. They argued that Grant had reached him by turning him against God, but Grant responded that his job was to make Jefferson’s time in his cage less painful and he was doing it the best way he knew how. As the confrontation between Grant and Rev. Ambrose became more heated, Miss Emma pleaded with them to work together for Jefferson’s benefit.

The next time Grant visited the jail, he brought some pecans from the school children. He implored Jefferson to go down to see his Aunt when she visited, and to show her respect. He wanted to be Jefferson’s friend, and promised he would bring a notebook next time so that Jefferson could write down his thoughts or questions he wanted to ask Grant. As he was getting ready to leave, a stammering Jefferson said to thank the children for the pecans. Grant saw that the hate was disappearing from Jefferson’s face, and he felt like crying for joy.

Notes

In many ways, Reverend Ambrose is a foil for Grant, which explains why they are constantly at odds with each other. The Reverend is shocked that the teacher of the community’s children is a self-declared atheist. In the effort to save Jefferson, Grant and Reverend Ambrose represent the competing interests of religion and secular education, and Grant seems to be the one making the most difference in Jefferson’s life. This concerns Reverend Ambrose. Oddly enough, his experiences with Jefferson have a religious effect on Grant himself. As he leaves the cell he feels shouting for joy, or hugging the first person he sees.


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