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A Lesson Before Dying

Ernest J. Gaines

Chapters 16–18

Chapters 13–15

Chapters 16–18, page 2

page 1 of 2

Summary: Chapter 16

On Monday, Grant sees Tante Lou, Reverend Ambrose, and Miss Emma returning from visiting Jefferson. They stop at Miss Emma’s house and go inside. In school, Grant finds his students planning for the annual Christmas program. He reminds them to keep just one person in mind this Christmas season, referring to Jefferson.

At her request, Grant visits Miss Emma. Miss Emma knows Grant lied about his previous visit to Jefferson, because her own visit was disturbing: Jefferson asked her if she had any “corn for a hog,” asking viciously and repeatedly until Miss Emma grew so distressed that she slapped him. Grant is irritated, feeling once again that he cannot help Jefferson and stating that he will not let Jefferson make him feel guilty. Tante Lou insists that Grant continue his visits.

Summary: Chapter 17

Over the course of the week, Grant feels his anger dissipating. He reflects on the fact that he never stays angry for a long time, although he never believes in anything for very long either.

On Friday, when Grant enters Jefferson’s cell, he has no idea how to help Jefferson. He tries talking about Miss Emma and the pain Jefferson causes her. Jefferson says that Grant wouldn’t be talking about love and compassion if Grant sat on death row. Jefferson says he never asked to be born. Saying that Grant’s visits anger him, Jefferson threatens to scream and cause a ruckus. Grant thinks that despite Jefferson’s angry words, his eyes indicate that he needs Grant. Jefferson says only the living need to have good manners; then he throws his food on the floor.

At Guidry’s request, Grant enters his office and stands for a few minutes, waiting as the sheriff talks on the phone. When Guidry finally hangs up, he asks Grant whether or not he sees an improvement in Jefferson, and Grant answers sincerely that he does not. Guidry is angry, and Grant finds out later that his anger stems from a visit Miss Emma paid to Mrs. Guidry, during which she asked if she could meet with Jefferson in the dayroom or in some other large room so that she could sit down. Grant denies Guidry’s accusation that Grant encouraged Miss Emma to make the request. Guidry asks Clark and a “fat man” named Frank what he should do. Clark declares that Jefferson should remain in his cell, Frank declines to answer, and Guidry decides to ask Jefferson what he would prefer. Still, Guidry says, even if Jefferson gets to go to the dayroom, he will have to be in shackles.

Summary: Chapter 18

As promised, Guidry asks Jefferson if he would like to meet his visitors in the dayroom, and he says he would. When Miss Emma, Tante Lou, and Reverend Ambrose visit Jefferson in the day room, Jefferson’s arms and legs are shackled. He sits down at the table and Miss Emma tries to feed him, but he refuses to eat.

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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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