Illustration of a man visiting another man in jail

A Lesson before Dying

by Ernest J. Gaines

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Chapter 15 Summary

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Vivian stands with her back to Grant, and he brushes grass off her blazer and skirt. The air has become colder, so they walk faster to get back to the quarter. On the way, Vivian says that she and her class will begin their Christmas program the following week. She asks if Grant will have one too. Grant says he will ask his students what they want, but he admits that visiting Jefferson at the jail in Bayonne has occupied his thoughts. Vivian asks Grant when he will visit Jefferson again, but Grant is not sure when he will go.

They reach the quarter, and Vivian wants to know if she should leave before Tante Lou returns home. Grant tells Vivian that he wants her to stay, and he figures that his aunt will have to get used to his having Vivian around. Vivian is unsure—she wants Tante Lou to like her. Grant assures her that they will get along once Tante Lou gets to know her. Vivian wishes things were that simple in her hometown, Free LaCove. She met her first husband at university. Because he was dark-skinned, her family shunned him when she married him and brought him to visit. Her family members would not even hold their baby, so Vivian stayed away and now has little contact with her family.

Tante Lou walks down the quarter with Miss Emma, Miss Eloise, and Inez, and she stares at the house once she spots Vivian’s car. Tante Lou gives a slight nod to Vivian, but she does not look at Grant. Once the women are inside, Grant insists on making coffee because he and Vivian drank the rest of the previous pot. Tante Lou does not like being bossed around. Grant blurts out that he will someday marry Vivian, so Tante Lou should learn to get along with her. Tante Lou’s pride is wounded. She at the table with the other women, and Grant asks Miss Eloise about the church service. Tante Lou looks at Vivian and asks her about Free LaCove and the townspeople’s dislike of dark-skinned people. Vivian says that not everyone there harbors such dislike but that she does not visit anyway because she has to live her own life. Tante Lou then questions Vivian about going to church, and Vivian says that she regularly attends mass at nine o’clock. Tante Lou points out that Grant no longer goes to church and tells Vivian that she had better know what she is getting herself into. Grant orders Vivian to set the table, and he pours the coffee while she serves cake.

Afterward, Grant and Vivian go out on the porch, and Vivian says she is happy to get away. Grant admits that Tante Lou has acted this way toward other women, but he will not let her get away with treating Vivian this way. Vivian is ready to leave, so she goes inside to say goodbye. Tante Lou tells her that she is a woman of quality. Outside on the porch, Vivian and Grant watch a young couple walk by holding hands before Grant kisses her on the nose.

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