Free Study Guide: A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines - Free BookNotes|
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A LESSON BEFORE DYING: FREE CHAPTER SUMMARY / BOOK NOTES
6) ‘Go on and scream, Jefferson. Go on and scream for Guidry, if that’s what you want.’
“We looked at each other, and I could see in those big reddened eyes
that he was not going to scream. He was full of anger - and who could
blame him? - but he was no fool. He needed me, and he wanted me here,
if only to insult me.” (Page 130)
Jefferson is immersed in self-pity, and he wants everyone else to feel
that pity too. Having never experience much kindness during his life from
anyone except Miss Emma, he is unnerved by Grant’s visits. He doesn’t
trust Grant. At one point, to lash out at Grant, he considers calling
the Sheriff to end the visits. When he sees the Grant is willing to call
his bluff, he reconsiders. In the end, he decides that he wants Grant
around, if only as a target for his hate and anger.
7) “We black men have failed to protect our women since the
time of slavery. We stay here in the South and are broken, or we run away
and leave them alone to look after the children and themselves. So each
time a male child is born, they hope he will be the one to change this
vicious circle - which he never does. Because even though he wants to
change, and maybe even tries to change it, it is too heavy a burden because
of all the others who have run away and left their burdens behind. So
he, too, must run away if he is to hold on to his sanity and have a life
of his own. I see by your face you don’t agree so I’ll try again. What
she wants is for him, Jefferson, and me to change everything that had
been going on for three hundred years. She wants it to happen so in case
she ever gets out of her bed again, she can go to that little church there
in the quarter and say proudly, ‘You see, I told you - I told you he was
a man.’” (Page 167)
While Grant and Vivian are having a drink at the Rainbow Club he explains
to her that expectations that Miss Emma has for both him and Jefferson.
His explanation relates the dilemma facing black men in the South, either
stay and be broken by the white establishment, or run away from your responsibilities
and make a new life for yourself. Miss Emma constantly repeats the phrases
“Somebody goin’ do something for me before I die,” and what she wants
is for Jefferson to stand up and be a man for her. Grant’s explanation
gives the reader a better understanding of the pressures and expectations
that are weighing down on Grant as he tries to make a life for himself
and help Jefferson deal with death at the same time.
8) “Do you know what a myth is, Jefferson?” I asked him. “A
myth is an old lie that people believe in. White people believe that they’re
better than anyone else on earth - and that’s a myth. The last thing they
ever want is to see a black man stand, and think, and show that common
humanity that is in us all. It would destroy their myth. They would no
longer have justification for having made us slaves and keeping us in
the condition we are in. As long as none of us stand they’re safe. They’re
safe with me. They’re safe with Reverend Ambrose. I don’t want them to
feel safe with you anymore.” (Page 192)
As Jefferson and Grant walk around the day room, out of ear-shot of
Miss Emma and Reverend Ambrose, Grant explains what is expected of Jefferson
in his last few weeks. He admits himself to be a slave, because he fails
to challenge the white discrimination. But Jefferson can do a lot to defy
the myth of white supremacy by going to the chair like a man.
9) “What did you learn (at college) about your own people? What did you learn her - her ‘round there?” he said, gesturing towards the other room and trying to keep his voice down.
I didn’t answer him. “No, you not educated, boy,” he said, shaking his head. “You far from being educated. You learned your reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic, but you don’t know nothing. You don’t even know yourself. Well?”
“You’re doing the talking, Reverend.” “And educated, boy,” he said,
thumping his chest. “I’m the one that’s educated. I know people like you
look down on people like me, but” - he touched his chest again - “I’m
the one that’s educated.” (Page 215)
Reverend Ambrose explains to Grant the meaning of education. Grant may
have a college degree, but an educated man knows himself, knows his people
and their suffering. Reverend Ambrose’s understanding and empathy for
his people is his education. In their conversation, Reverend Ambrose asks
Grant if he knew about Tante Lou’s hands, scarred from cutting cane to
pay for Grant’s college. Or her knees scarred from praying for Grant.
Grant doesn’t know about any of this, she’d hid it from him. That makes
him the dupe.
10) “Don’t tell me to believe. Don’t tell me to believe in the same God or laws that men believe in who commit these murders. Don’t tell me to believe that God can bless this country and that men are judged by their peers. Who among his peers judged him? Was I there? Was the minister there? Was Harry Williams there? Was Farrell Jarreau? Was my aunt? Was Vivian? No, his peers did not judge him, and I will not believe.”
“Yet they must believe. They must believe, if only to free the mind,
if not the body. Only when the mind is free has the body a chance to be
free. Yes, they must believe, they must believe. Because I know what it
means to be a slave. I am a slave.” (Page 251)
As he waits outside the schoolhouse for word of Jefferson’s execution,
Grant is understandably bitter. He has a simplistic version of religion:
there must not be a God, because God would not allow injustices like Jefferson’s
execution. Grant’s only faith was in Jefferson, and it dies when he dies.
He has, however, begun to understand his own people a little better, which
means he is beginning to be educated.
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Strate, Shane. "TheBestNotes on A Lesson Before Dying".
. 09 May 2017