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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES - A Lesson Before Dying
When Grant next returned to Jefferson’s cell he could see that the lead on the pencil was worn down considerably, and the eraser had been used a lot. Grant flipped through the notebook and read that Jefferson had been dreaming about the long walk to the execution chamber. Grant offered to bring him a pencil sharpener next time, but Jefferson was more interested in whether Easter was the day Jesus died, or when he rose from the tomb. Grant encouraged him to follow Rev. Ambrose’s advice and pray for his Nannan’s sake. Jefferson asked if he prayed, and Grant had to admit that he didn’t. But he told Jefferson it was good to believe in heaven, if only because it would please Miss Emma. She had done so many things for Jefferson, and this would be a chance to give something back.
admiration for Jesus, who went to the cross without saying ‘a mumblin’ word.’
(Page 223) He said that’s how he wanted to go to the chair - without a word. He
realized that from here on out he had to do it all himself, carry his own cross
like Jesus. No one cared for him during his life; now that he was going to die
he was supposed to somehow be better than anyone else. Why was that? Grant said
he didn’t know. Jefferson promised to do his best and Grant reminded him that
every last person in the quarter needed him to do his best. Finally, Jefferson
asked what it would be like, if it would be painful. Grant replied that he probably
wouldn’t feel anything.
When Grant remarks, “My eyes were closed before this moment, Jefferson. My eyes have been closed all my life” he is in the final stage of his conversion process. Impressed with Jefferson’s courage, Grant sees him as a Savior-figure. If he manages to bear his cross with dignity, Jefferson can provide a form of salvation to all the people of the quarter. He can give them something they’ve never had, something they could not achieve on their own - pride in their race and in themselves.
Jefferson’s diary. He has never written a letter in his life before, but takes time to write down his observations and feelings in the fee weeks before his execution. He writes that the Lord must only work for white folks, since he didn’t do anything to deserve his fate. When he goes to sleep, he dreams about walking towards a door. He wants to tell Grant that he likes him, but he doesn’t know how. He notices people’s reactions to him. Henri Pichot visited his cell and sharpened his pencil, then gave Jefferson the knife he used to sharpen the pencil. Bok, a mentally retarded boy, gave Jefferson on of his special marbles. Paul seems distant now that the execution date has been announced.
The children from the quarter came to visit him, and when he received a hug from his cousin Estel he couldn’t hold back the tears. After meeting Vivian, he felt bad about what he had said the day he was trying to insult Grant. Towards the end, the Sheriff allowed him to shower by himself, with a new bar of soap and a new towel. He also left the light on at night so that Jefferson could keep writing. He didn’t sleep at all the night before his execution. At the end, he wrote that he would ask Paul to take the diary to Grant.
The most important idea to emerge from Jefferson’s diary is his surprise that people who showed no concern for him during his life are trying to make him comfortable right before his death. Mr. Pichot gives him the pearl-handled pocketknife, the Sheriff allows him to have the light on, and Grant comes to visit him once a week. None of these people ever cared for him before he was sentenced to death. Paul seems to be the opposite. He becomes more and more distant as the date approaches