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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES - A Lesson Before Dying
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.
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.
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.
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.