Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES - A Lesson Before Dying
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.
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.
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.
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.