Miss Emma goes to church on Determination Sunday—when church members sing their favorite hymns and tell the congregation where they will spend eternity. Grant recalls last Friday, when he came back from talking to Vivian. He had found Miss Emma and Reverend Ambrose sitting with his aunt in the kitchen. Miss Emma asked him about his visit to Jefferson’s cell, and he lied and says that Jefferson seemed to be doing well and that he had eaten some of the food she had sent him. Reverend Ambrose tried to determine whether or not Grant intended to teach Jefferson within a Christian framework. Reverend Ambrose had visited Jefferson and he wanted to know if Grant had been undermining his teachings with cynical secularism. Grant became impatient with this line of questioning. After years of hard studying in academia, he no longer believes in the teachings of the Bible.
After his aunt returns from church, Grant sits at his desk correcting papers. He remarks that, up until his last year at the university, he participated in the church. He says that studying ate up most of his time and that he became distanced from his faith in the church, angering Tante Lou. Professor Antoine told him he should leave Bayonne for good, and Grant tried visiting his parents in California. Nevertheless, he returned to Bayonne to teach, where he cannot escape the influence of the black church. He says that he is “running in place, unable to accept what used to be my life, unable to leave it.”
Suddenly, Vivian surprises Grant with a visit to his house.
Vivian has never been to Grant’s house before. He gives her a small tour and offers her some coffee and cake. She insists they wash their plates after eating, even though Grant tells her that his aunt would take care of the dishes. He asks her to take a walk with him, and she consents. They walk through the plantation, past a cemetery, and onto the sugarcane fields. They make love on the field, concealed by the cane. Afterward, they discuss possible names for their future children, and Grant says he does not want to raise his children in this community.
After some time, they return home. Vivian says that she hopes Grant’s family will like her. She comes from a light-skinned mulatto community called Free LaCove, but she married a very dark-skinned man whom she met while attending Xavier University. She kept the marriage secret because she knew her family would object. When she finally told them, they shunned her and her new family. Even now, after her separation from her husband, she never speaks to her family.
They find Tante Lou, Miss Emma, and others at his aunt’s house. Grant introduces Vivian. He insists on making coffee because he and Vivian drank it all earlier, but his aunt objects, wishing to take charge in her own home. The tension between them makes the other ladies uncomfortable. Tante Lou asks Vivian about her background and beliefs. Vivian goes to church regularly, although it’s to the Catholic church. Tante Lou presses Vivian about whether she would drop her religion to marry Grant, the atheist. Vivian says she hopes she would not have to do that, but that if she had to, she would. Grant quickly ushers Vivian onto the porch. Vivian tells Grant that she is happy to know that at least other families criticize their children as much as her family does. Grant insists that his family differs from hers. Vivian becomes very quiet and then says she must go. The ladies say that Vivian is a “lady of quality” and encourage her to remain a Christian woman. After the interrogation, Vivian leaves gratefully with Grant. They watch a black girl and her boyfriend walking home from church holding hands. Grant thinks to himself, “Good luck.”
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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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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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.