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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES - A Lesson Before Dying
Vivian takes Grant back to her house. She tells him heíll have to spend the night there because heís in no shape to drive. She called Dora to watch the children that night. She tries to explain to Grant how his fight has complicated their relationship. She may get firede from her job because she left school early to pull him out of the bar. Her husband had just informed her that he would not grant her a divorce unless he could see the children every weekend. Grant became upset, telling her he couldnít just sit there and let them talk about Jefferson that way. Vivian responded that he was only thinking about himself, not Jefferson and not her. Love, she says, involves consideration and self-restraint, not just what they do in the bedroom. Enraged, Grant starts out of the house. Then, realizing he was walking away from everything that was important to him, he turned around and went back to Vivian.
This is a crucial turning point in Grant and Vivianís
relationship. Grantís selfish nature causes him to treat Vivian as an object.
His concept of love seems to end with making love. She is confused about the direction
they are heading and possibly reconsidering whether she wants to be involved with
someone who jeopardizes their relationship, her job, and her custody of her children
by getting into a bar fight. It is also a turning point for Grant personally.
When faced with Vivianís accusations, his first impulse is run away. This was
his problem-solving technique. But in this case, he realizes the futility of this
approach and turns around to ask forgiveness and take responsibility for making
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.
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.