Illustration of a man visiting another man in jail

A Lesson before Dying

by Ernest J. Gaines

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Chapter 21 Summary

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As Grant gets closer to home, he sees two cars parked in front of Miss Emma’s house. Even though he does not want to stop in, he feels that he owes Miss Emma a visit. Inside, Miss Emma has taken to her bed, so Tante Lou has assumed the role of hostess and is in the kitchen making coffee for the other guests. Irene is in the kitchen, and Grant thanks her for taking over the class in his absence. Reverend Ambrose gives Grant a hard look, and Grant assumes that he has told Tante Lou what happened at Mr. Henri’s house because she has little to say to him. After ten minutes, Grant leaves.

At home Grant warms the dinner that Tante Lou left for him, and he lights fires around the house. After eating, Grant hears footsteps on the porch—Vivian has heard the news about Jefferson and has come to see Grant. They share coffee, and Grant asks Vivian to lie on the bed beside him. Vivian says that she thought to stop at Miss Emma’s house but was not sure if her visit would be appropriate. Grant tells her that stopping in to see Miss Emma is a good idea, and after about twenty minutes, the two get up and dress for the visit.

Grant and Vivian push through the crowd, and Grant tells Miss Emma that he has brought someone to see her. Vivian whispers something in Miss Emma’s ear, and Grant can tell from the look on Miss Emma’s face that she is pleased with Vivian’s comment. Grant introduces Vivian to the others in the room before taking her into the kitchen to see his aunt. Inez comes to tell Grant that Miss Emma wants to see him before he goes. Miss Emma tells him that she does not know when she will be able to go back to visit Jefferson and that Jefferson’s well-being is now in Grant’s hands and those of the reverend. Miss Emma hopes they can work together. Grant says he will try.

After leaving Miss Emma’s house, Grant needs a drink, so he follows Vivian back to Bayonne so they can go to the Rainbow Club. While drinking brandy, Vivian tells Grant she can sense that Irene is in love with him. Grant says that he knows, and he lists other people in town who also love him. He says they do not want an outsider to take him away from his home. Grant says that people in his life like Irene and Tante Lou just want someone of whom they can be proud, just like Miss Emma wants to be proud of Jefferson before he dies. Grant feels that black men have failed to protect their women since the time of slavery and that they have either been broken or run off by the realities of their lives. Vivian asks if the circle will ever be broken, and Grant tells her that it is up to Jefferson.

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Chapter 20 Summary


Chapter 22 Summary