Illustration of a man visiting another man in jail

A Lesson before Dying

by Ernest J. Gaines

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Chapter 11 Summary

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When Grant arrives at the courthouse, the sheriff is in his office. Grant goes in, and Guidry asks if he can help him. Grant asks to see Jefferson. Guidry wants to know how their time together is going so far. Grant says this will be the first time for him to visit Jefferson alone. Guidry asks Paul, the younger deputy, to escort Grant to Jefferson’s cell. Before entering the corridor, Grant must go through the usual routine of emptying his pockets. While doing so, Guidry asks Grant if he thinks he can reach Jefferson. Then Guidry reminds him that he will end the sessions if he gets any sign of aggravation.

As he approaches the cell, Grant sees that today Jefferson is sitting with his head lowered and his arms dangling between his legs. Grant tells him that Miss Emma could not make the trip that day because she has a bad cold but that she sent food along for him. Grant asks Jefferson how he is feeling, but Jefferson does not answer. After a while, Jefferson raises his head and looks out the window, where there is a view of the yellow leaves on a sycamore tree.

Jefferson asks Grant if he has brought some corn because that is what hogs are supposed to eat. Grant looks at Jefferson, who has not washed his face or combed his hair in days, and tells him that he has not brought any corn and that he is not a hog. Grant offers Jefferson the food in the basket: chicken, biscuits, sweet potatoes, and candy. When Jefferson says that hogs do not eat candy, Grant knows Jefferson is playing with him. Grant again tells Jefferson that he is a man, not a hog. Grant settles down to eat a drumstick and a biscuit, and Jefferson continues to say that he is just a hog being fattened up for slaughter. Then Jefferson gets down on the floor, shoves his face into the basket, and eats without using his hands. Grant does not make a move.

When Jefferson comes up from the basket, Grant tells him that he is not going to relay Jefferson’s actions to Miss Emma and because it will break her heart to hear that he behaved in such a way. Grant asks Jefferson if he is trying to hurt him and make him feel guilty; he also tells Jefferson that the sheriff does not think Grant’s visits will do any good. Grant asks Jefferson if he wants the white man to win. Then they sit in silence. Grant remains in the cell for the entire hour so nothing will look suspicious to the deputy. When he leaves, he says he will tell Miss Emma that Jefferson enjoyed her home cooking.

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