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

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A LESSON BEFORE DYING: LITERATURE SUMMARY / BOOK REPORT

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

Summary

Next Sunday after church, Reverend Ambrose came over to Grantís house to talk with him about Jefferson. The Reverend tried to enlist Grantís help in saving Jeffersonís soul. Grant replied that reading and writing was his work, saving souls was the preacherís work. The Rev. countered that Grant had a responsibility to help save Jeffersonís soul, because Jefferson listens to Grant and no one else. Frustrated, Reverend Ambrose asked Grant if he ever thought about anyone but himself. He may have gone to college, but he was not educated. He didnít know the first thing about himself, and he didnít know his people. Using those criteria, Reverend Ambrose was the educated man.

The Reverend wants Grant to help Jefferson fall on his knees before he goes to the chair, but Grant wants Jefferson to stand tall, not realizing a man can kneel and stand at the same time. Grant agrees to tell Jefferson to believe, but if Jefferson asks Grant if he believes, he wonít lie and pretend that he does, not even for Miss Emmaís sake. Rev. Ambrose reminds him that heís not the only person whoís ever had to lie. Their job is to relieve pain and suffering, to cast out ignorance, and if they have to lie to do it - then they lie. The Reverend pointed out that it was Aunt Tante Louís lies that got Grant through university. Sheíd tell him she was fine when in fact her hands were bleeding from the can knife, or she had blisters on her knees from praying for Grant. Grant didnít know any of this because she didnít want him to know. Thatís what made him the Ďgumpí and Rev. Ambrose the scholar. The Rev. knew his people and knew their suffering.

Notes


This chapter, following as it does Grantís confrontation with Vivian, is a step on Grantís path towards self-realization. Like Vivian, Reverend Ambrose wonders aloud if Grant ever thinks of anyone but himself. Despite this, Grant displays a degree of self-control during the conversation, which did not possess down at the Rainbow Room. When Rev. Ambrose grabs his shoulders, he manages to refrain from knocking the Reverendís hands down.

Throughout the novel, Grant is slightly contemptuous of Rev. Ambrose and his spiritual outlook, but in their discussion the preacher proves himself to be an astute observer of the human condition. He possesses more of the answers to lifeís questions than Grantís old schoolteacher, Mathew Antoine. He speaks to Grant about self-awareness, the power of sacrifice, and the strength of humility. Most importantly, he tries to convince Grant that education should be a tool used to help others. It should bring Grant closer to the people in the quarter instead of isolating him from them. This is one of the reasons Grant is not yet truly educated.


CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

Summary

When Grant next returned to Jeffersonís cell he could see that the lead on the pencil was worn down considerably, and the eraser had been used a lot. Grant flipped through the notebook and read that Jefferson had been dreaming about the long walk to the execution chamber. Grant offered to bring him a pencil sharpener next time, but Jefferson was more interested in whether Easter was the day Jesus died, or when he rose from the tomb. Grant encouraged him to follow Rev. Ambroseís advice and pray for his Nannanís sake. Jefferson asked if he prayed, and Grant had to admit that he didnít. But he told Jefferson it was good to believe in heaven, if only because it would please Miss Emma. She had done so many things for Jefferson, and this would be a chance to give something back.

Jefferson expressed admiration for Jesus, who went to the cross without saying Ďa mumbliní word.í (Page 223) He said thatís how he wanted to go to the chair - without a word. He realized that from here on out he had to do it all himself, carry his own cross like Jesus. No one cared for him during his life; now that he was going to die he was supposed to somehow be better than anyone else. Why was that? Grant said he didnít know. Jefferson promised to do his best and Grant reminded him that every last person in the quarter needed him to do his best. Finally, Jefferson asked what it would be like, if it would be painful. Grant replied that he probably wouldnít feel anything.

Notes

When Grant remarks, ďMy eyes were closed before this moment, Jefferson. My eyes have been closed all my lifeĒ he is in the final stage of his conversion process. Impressed with Jeffersonís courage, Grant sees him as a Savior-figure. If he manages to bear his cross with dignity, Jefferson can provide a form of salvation to all the people of the quarter. He can give them something theyíve never had, something they could not achieve on their own - pride in their race and in themselves.


CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

Summary

Jeffersonís diary. He has never written a letter in his life before, but takes time to write down his observations and feelings in the fee weeks before his execution. He writes that the Lord must only work for white folks, since he didnít do anything to deserve his fate. When he goes to sleep, he dreams about walking towards a door. He wants to tell Grant that he likes him, but he doesnít know how. He notices peopleís reactions to him. Henri Pichot visited his cell and sharpened his pencil, then gave Jefferson the knife he used to sharpen the pencil. Bok, a mentally retarded boy, gave Jefferson on of his special marbles. Paul seems distant now that the execution date has been announced. The children from the quarter came to visit him, and when he received a hug from his cousin Estel he couldnít hold back the tears. After meeting Vivian, he felt bad about what he had said the day he was trying to insult Grant. Towards the end, the Sheriff allowed him to shower by himself, with a new bar of soap and a new towel. He also left the light on at night so that Jefferson could keep writing. He didnít sleep at all the night before his execution. At the end, he wrote that he would ask Paul to take the diary to Grant.

Notes

The most important idea to emerge from Jeffersonís diary is his surprise that people who showed no concern for him during his life are trying to make him comfortable right before his death. Mr. Pichot gives him the pearl-handled pocketknife, the Sheriff allows him to have the light on, and Grant comes to visit him once a week. None of these people ever cared for him before he was sentenced to death. Paul seems to be the opposite. He becomes more and more distant as the date approaches.


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