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A Lesson Before Dying

Ernest J. Gaines

Chapters 30–31

Chapter 29: Jefferson’s Diary

Chapters 30–31, page 2

page 1 of 2

Summary: Chapter 30

On the morning before Jefferson’s execution, a black truck with a gray tarpaulin cover drives into town. Many people stop to watch it pass. It goes through the business district and pulls into the courthouse.

Vivian and Grant sit at the Rainbow Club the night before the execution. She tells him that from noon until she knows the execution is over, she will have her students kneel beside their desks. After saying goodnight to Vivian at nine o’clock, Grant drives around for a while and then goes to his aunt’s house. He notices a couple of cars parked in front of Miss Emma’s, but he does not stop.

At six-thirty the next morning, Sheriff Guidry sits down to breakfast, feeling nervous. He has never overseen an execution before. He tells his wife that he asked Grant if he would be present, but Grant shook his head. Guidry says Reverend Ambrose asked to attend the execution and Guidry said yes. He also asked the Reverend if one more person from the quarter would like to attend. At eight, Guidry goes to the courthouse and supervises the unloading process. Henry Vincent, the official executioner, tells the sheriff that the prisoner must be shaven. Guidry asks Paul to do it, and Paul reluctantly agrees.

Jefferson remains quiet as Paul shaves his head, ankles, and wrists. As Paul leaves, Jefferson asks him to deliver the notebook to Grant and to keep the radio for himself. Paul says he cannot keep the radio, but he promises to give it to the other inmates. He accepts Jefferson’s gift of a marble. Jefferson asks Paul if he plans to attend the execution and Paul says yes.

Summary: Chapter 31

As the hour of Jefferson’s execution approaches, Grant steps outside the schoolhouse. He remembers old friends, classmates, and baseball teammates. Many of his friends have died, mostly as a result of violence. Grant stifles tears for Jefferson, saying that there will be too many more like him, and he cannot cry for all of them. He thinks of calling Vivian or the Reverend. He thinks Reverend Ambrose is courageous for using the white man’s God as a source of strength. Grant wonders if he has caused Jefferson to lose faith in God and asks Jefferson to forgive his foolishness if he has robbed him of faith. Grant says he puts his faith in Jefferson.

At ten minutes before noon, Grant lines up his students and asks them to kneel. He goes back outside. He wonders what Jefferson is doing at this very minute and asks himself why he is not with Jefferson, or inside praying with his students. Angry, Grant says that he refuses to believe in the same God worshipped by the jurors that convicted Jefferson. Tante Lou, Miss Emma, and Reverend Ambrose believe in God because it frees their minds and gives their bodies a chance to be free. Grant says he knows this because “he knows what it means to be a slave. I am a slave.”

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Conflicts

by brittdawg22, September 02, 2013

The main conflict of A Lesson Before Dying lies within Grant himself. Even though Grant struggles to manage in the racist white society, his primary struggle is with his own mind. As he says to Vivian, he cannot face Jefferson because he cannot face himself and his own life. Vivian exposes Grant’s conflicted nature by bringing up the fact that he left the South in the past but eventually returned. Grant feels repulsed by the environment in which he grew up, but somehow he cannot bring himself to leave. Despite his statement that Vivian’s... Read more

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175 out of 182 people found this helpful

conflicts

by brittdawg22, September 02, 2013

rant’s inner conflict stems from his experiences in education, including his exposure to the cynical Antoine. Inspired by years of study, Grant wants to make great changes in his hometown. Grant’s behavior defies stereotype, but in order to live, he must follow certain rules that make his small moments of defiance futile. The losing battle between small rebellions and survival becomes clear in Grant’s conversation with Guidry. Grant takes pride in flouting Guidry’s racist expectations by using grammatical English and maintaining his ... Read more

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15 out of 17 people found this helpful

future conflict?

by brittdawg22, September 02, 2013

Her comment here at the end of Chapter 12 shows that she enjoys the thought of living with Grant in the South. Gaines shows Vivian’s emotional state here in order to heighten the ensuing clash between her and Grant that occurs later in the novel.

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