In Ernest J. Gaines's A Lesson Before Dying, what was Grant and Miss Emma's first visit like to see Jefferson in jail?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As we see in Chapter 9 of Ernest J. Gaines's A Lesson Before Dying, the first time Grant goes with Miss Emma to visit her godson Jefferson in jail, Jefferson treats them with silence and hostility, never wanting to think about anything more than his upcoming unjust death sentence.

For the first visit, Miss Emma brings for Jefferson a basket of his favorite fried chicken, yams, and tea cakes; however, when she asks how he is doing and offers him something to eat, Jefferson won't say a word to her, making her want to cry. Instead, he stares at the ceiling while not "seeing the ceiling" (p. 72). Finally, Jefferson speaks but only to say what she was offering him "don't matter" (p. 72). He continues to draw a poorly articulated parallel between Miss Emma's chicken and dirt as if to say it doesn't matter which he eats--dirt or chicken. His reason for doing so is to assert the correctness of his attorney's argument that electrocuting Jefferson would be the same as electrocuting a hog. Racism, sadly, has Jefferson convinced that he is not fully human; he is just like a hog. Jefferson only speaks again to indirectly ask when he will be executed and if Grant will be one of the ones to pull the leaver. Soon after Grant and Miss Emma leave the cell.

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A Lesson before Dying

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