Illustration of a man visiting another man in jail

A Lesson before Dying

by Ernest J. Gaines

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Chapter 12 Summary

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Grant knows that Miss Emma is expecting him to return immediately and relay the news of his visit with Jefferson, but he cannot tell Miss Emma what really happened at the jail. He needs time to think and concoct a believable lie, so he drives to the back of town to stop at the Rainbow Club. There are only two customers at the bar, and Joe Claiborne is serving drinks and talking baseball. Grant orders a beer and tells Claiborne that he had some business in town. The other men continue to talk about Jackie Robinson; it seems that they remember every move Robinson has made in the two years he has been playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers. One of the men gets up to mimic the time when Robinson stole home plate; the other man nods, and Claiborne says he is exactly right.

Grant remembers the time before Robinson joined the major leagues—the talk then revolved around Joe Louis. Everyone in the community was excited and proud about Louis’s fight with the German boxer Schmeling, and the community lamented Louis’s loss of the fight. Even the preacher at church exclaimed that a rematch would occur. When it did, everyone huddled around the few radios that were owned by families in the quarter, hoping and praying for Louis’s victory. After Louis won the fight, blacks held their heads high.

Grant thinks back to his time at university when an Irish lecturer came to speak to the students about Irish writers. He told the students that one of James Joyce’s stories, “Ivy Day in the Committee Room,” was universal. Grant asked his literature teacher for a copy of the story. After reading it, Grant could not understand how the story applied to his people and his situation. But now Grant realizes that people everywhere talk about the pride they have for their heroes, just like the men in the bar speak with reverence for Jackie Robinson. Grant orders another beer and thinks about the jail and how he will have to lie to Miss Emma; he wants to think about happier things, like running away with Vivian. He remembers reading about an execution in Florida during which the boy cried out to Mr. Joe Louis for help; Grant wonders if Jefferson will cry out to Jackie Robinson.

Grant leaves the bar and drives to the school where Vivian works. He asks her to spend the weekend or at least the night with him. But Vivian does not want to take the risk; she fears that her husband might find out about her new relationship and try to take custody of their children. Grant tells Vivian all that happened at the jail that afternoon, and he tells her he wishes he could run away. Vivian reminds him that he is tied to this place. Before leaving to get a drink at the bar, Vivian tells Grant she loves him.

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Chapter 11 Summary


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