A Lesson Before Dying

by: Ernest J. Gaines

Chapters 22–24

Summary Chapters 22–24

In these chapters, Jefferson begins to take steps toward recovering his dignity by voicing and acting upon personal desires. He admits to Grant that he wants ice cream and consents to write his thoughts down in a notebook. A few days later, he asks Grant to thank his students for their efforts. These may seem like minor incidents, but they mark the end of Jefferson’s isolation. Until this point, he has refused to admit wanting anything. Since acknowledging his intelligent desires is a human action, Jefferson seems to be relinquishing his tendency to deny his humanity. Now he reclaims his humanity by admitting he wants things and by thinking of others’ feelings. The fact that Jefferson weeps following Grant’s eloquent appeal for Jefferson’s heroic strength shows that he has begun to listen to and internalize Grant’s thoughts and feelings.

Both Grant and Jefferson go through pivotal changes as they walk around the room. In contrast to his previous wild behavior, now Jefferson listens carefully to Grant’s words, looking up when asked to do so. He weeps as Grant talks, showing that Grant’s words have affected him. In contrast to Grant’s usual cynicism, depression, and disconnectedness, here he talks in emotional and straightforward language. To Jefferson, he speaks the raw emotions of his heart as he never speaks them to other people. He tells Jefferson of his own shame, his own failings, his own need for a hero. He admits he has always wanted to run from responsibility and has squandered his chance to make changes. He stops expressing anger at his family and fellow black community members and starts expressing anger at his society. Grant’s honesty and his inspiring words begin to convince Jefferson that he can stop acting like an animal and regain his dignity. If Jefferson and Grant have clashed in the past, now they become united in working toward one goal. Gaines stresses this unification with the image of the two men walking together.