Illustration of a man visiting another man in jail

A Lesson before Dying

by Ernest J. Gaines

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Chapter 18 Summary

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As promised, Guidry asks Jefferson if he would like to take his visitors in the dayroom even though he would be shackled. Jefferson does not care because he is going to die anyway. When Miss Emma, Tante Lou, and Reverend Ambrose return to see Jefferson, Miss Emma sets up four dinner places at the center table in the dayroom just as if she were at home. Paul brings Jefferson into the dayroom, and Jefferson trips over the shackles as he approaches the table. After he sits, Miss Emma asks him how he is feeling, but he does not answer and stares down at his hands between his legs. Miss Emma serves the food but Jefferson will not eat. She offers to feed him but he does not move when she holds the spoon to his mouth. Tante Lou can see how much Miss Emma is hurting.

A few days later, Grant returns to see Jefferson, and the deputy asks if he wants to visit in the cell or in the dayroom. Grant does not mind where he meets Jefferson, so the deputy tells Paul to take Grant to the dayroom. Jefferson enters with short steps because of the shackles. He sits across from Grant.

Jefferson says he is not hungry, but Grant begins eating and encourages Jefferson to eat too. Jefferson has lost some weight since he has been in prison and Grant just wants him to eat something. But Jefferson knows Grant wants something else too, and Grant admits that he wants to talk. Jefferson says he wants to talk about the electric chair but Grant changes the subject to the Christmas program at school.

Grant asks Jefferson if he knows what moral and obligation mean. He tells Jefferson that we all owe something to someone and that Jefferson owes Miss Emma understanding and love. Jefferson says that only humans can do these things, and Grant says that since Jefferson speaks and wears clothes, he is still human. Jefferson thinks that he will die at Christmastime, and Grant must assure him that nothing will happen at Christmas. Jefferson says he will be glad when the execution is over because then he can rest. Again, Grant speaks of the Christmas program, and he tells Jefferson that the boys found a little pine tree this year.

After Grant leaves the jail, he goes to the back of town to the Rainbow Club for a couple of beers. When school is out, Grant drives to Vivian’s school and brings her back to the Rainbow Club. Grant and Vivian talk about going into Baton Rouge that night. Grant does not want to go because he is bothered by his visit with Jefferson. Grant wants Vivian to tell him to stop visiting Jefferson but she refuses, saying he would regret it in the end. Grant thinks nothing is changing, but Vivian thinks something is definitely changing.

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