Illustration of a man visiting another man in jail

A Lesson before Dying

by Ernest J. Gaines

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Chapter 10 Summary

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The next two visits Grant and Miss Emma make to see Jefferson at the jail go in a similar fashion as the first: they drive in silence, the deputy searches the food, Grant must empty all his pockets, they pass through the corridor of prisoners to whom they promise the leftover food, Grant gives the men his spare change, and Jefferson is lying on his cot staring at the ceiling or facing the wall. After an hour, the deputy unlocks the door, and Miss Emma leaves crying.

On the afternoon of the fourth visit to the jail, Grant leaves an elder student, Irene Cole, in charge of his class so he can get his car and drive to pick up Miss Emma. This afternoon she is not waiting for him. Grant waits several minutes but Miss Emma does not appear, so he puts respect aside and blows the horn. Instead of Miss Emma, Tante Lou comes out. She closes the door behind her and looks at Grant. He gets out of the car, and Tante Lou asks him if something is wrong. Grant asks his aunt why she did not tell him Miss Emma could not go to the jail that day. Tante Lou tells him it does not matter because he is going to the jail anyway.

The two go inside to see Miss Emma, who is sitting in her rocking chair by the fireplace. She is dressed in warm, heavy clothing, and Grant thinks Miss Emma is pretending to be sicker than she actually is—just that morning, Grant saw her picking up wood chips in the yard. Tante Lou sits down next to Miss Emma, and both women look at the fireplace. Twice Miss Emma coughs dryly to remind Grant of her supposed illness.

Tante Lou tells Grant he is to take the food to the jail, and then Miss Emma mutters that he does not have to go if the trip will be a burden. Grant says that Tante Lou can go with him instead, but she refuses because she is not wearing her good dress. Grant realizes that the women have had this sequence of events planned from the beginning. Grant asks Miss Emma if he can get her some cough syrup, and Tante Lou scolds him. Grant threatens to drive halfway to Bayonne and dump the food in the river. Tante Lou tells him that he had better do the right thing. Grant takes the food, but he tells his aunt that she is stripping him of his dignity. Miss Emma is now crying, and Tante Lou gets up to comfort her. Tante Lou tells Grant that she is sorry but there is no one else to whom they can turn for help.

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Chapter 9 Summary


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