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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES - A Lesson Before Dying
Grant continues visiting Jefferson with the group. The next time they visit he stops and buys a pencil and notebook for Jefferson to write in. They sat and waited in the dayroom for Jefferson to come in. When he arrived Revered Ambrose said a lengthy prayer on the gumbo and they ate, all except Jefferson. Grant thought Jefferson might be more comfortable talking to him alone, so they both got up from the table and talked as they walked around the room. Grant again asked Jefferson to make his Nannan happy by eating some of the gumbo she brought. He explained the idea of a hero. He talked about himself, how he was not a hero because he hated teaching and wanted to run away and live for himself and Vivian. But a hero, he continued, does things for others. Jefferson could be a hero, because he could give the people in the quarter something they don’t expect by walking to the chair with pride, like a man. Someone like Jefferson could help destroy the myth that blacks are inferior, but conducting himself with dignity during his final days.
tells Jefferson that he can chip away at the myth of white supremacy by standing
up and going to the chair like a man. Jefferson has something to contribute that
even an educated man like Grant could not do. He can be bigger than anyone else
who has ever come out of the quarter. When he was finished talking, he noticed
tears in Jefferson’s eyes. They went back to the table to eat some gumbo.
Grant’s visits with Jefferson have a religious effect. The more Grant works with Jefferson, the closer to self-awareness he gets. This chapter is the first time he truly admits his selfishness. Jefferson is also touched; Grant has made him realize that he is still connected to the whole, that he can still make a contribution to the welfare of others despite being on death row.
After the visit, Grant went back to the Rainbow Club to wait for Vivian. He was excited about how well he and Jefferson communicated, how Jefferson had eaten some of the gumbo. He couldn’t wait to tell Vivian about it. Now that things were going well with Jefferson he hoped it would improve his relationship with Vivian also. He wouldn’t, however, mention the envy he saw in Reverend Ambrose’s face when Jefferson ate some of the gumbo. He wondered what Jefferson would write on his tablet, questions or comments?
As he sat at his table he overheard the conversation of two mulatto bricklayers sitting at the bar. Mulattoes were extremely prejudiced against Blacks, and would do anything to get out of working alongside them in the fields. Grant realized these two were talking about Jefferson, saying they wished he’d been executed months ago. He tried not to listen, not to let these two ruin his good mood, but finally he’d had enough. He walked over to the bar and told the two men to shut-up, and a brawl ensued. The bar manager tried to intervene, sending his wife out to get Vivian, and finally knocking Grant unconscious because he wouldn’t stop fighting. When Grant regained consciousness Vivian was standing over him, trying to help him limp out of the bar.
Now that Jefferson is showing some improvement, the rivalry between Grant and Reverend Ambrose is intensifying. These are Jefferson’s last hours, and the Reverend believes he should be devoting himself to God instead of listening to the ‘sin box’. The Reverend appears jealous that Grant has brought about such a change in Jefferson’s demeanor, and perplexed that someone he considers to be a sinner could be displaying such good works.
Clearly, Grant’s attitudes toward Jefferson have changed. At first, he wanted nothing to do with the situation; now he is picking fights in bars with people who are insulting Jefferson. Grant helps Jefferson because it is one method for fighting against the racism in the South that limits him to teaching school. He thinks that by punching out these two mulatto bricklayers, he is really attacking their racist attitudes towards all blacks. It is a misguided attempt to be a hero.