Illustration of a man visiting another man in jail

A Lesson before Dying

by Ernest J. Gaines

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Chapter 23 Summary

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On Monday, Miss Emma feels well enough to go with Tante Lou and Reverend Ambrose to the jail, but when they get there, Jefferson refuses to go to the dayroom because he is not allowed to take the radio out of his cell. Grant later finds out that Jefferson did not turn off the radio the entire weekend and the prisoners around him strained to hear the music he played. Miss Emma and the others wait, and Paul returns to report that Jefferson will not leave his cell. They gather up the food and go to Jefferson’s cell, but Jefferson just lies on his bunk facing the wall. When Paul returns to let them out of the cell, Jefferson turns on the radio. Paul tells Miss Emma that the sheriff would like to see her. Guidry asks Miss Emma if the radio is causing trouble, and Miss Emma says that it is not. Guidry chides Miss Emma because today she has accepted standing in the cell when before it was a problem, and he tells Miss Emma that they must work together with Grant and not cause trouble. Miss Emma says that she will speak to Grant when she gets home.

Grant is summoned to Miss Emma’s house later that afternoon. Tante Lou, Reverend Ambrose, and Miss Emma say that Grant has done wrong by giving Jefferson the radio because all he wants to do is listen to it. The reverend says that Jefferson needs God in his cell, not the radio. Grant says that the radio and the music keep Jefferson company, but the reverend calls it “sin company.” Grant says that he does not care what the reverend thinks, and Tante Lou yells at him to not speak that way. She approaches him, and Grant knows she wants to slap him. Grant says that he is trying to reach Jefferson the best way he can—the radio helps him to not think about death.

Grant plans to visit Jefferson again on Wednesday, so on Tuesday he asks the children at school to bring in pecans and roasted peanuts for Jefferson. In Bayonne, Grant buys apples, candy, and comic books. When Grant gets to Jefferson’s cell, he asks if Jefferson was able to catch some radio shows over the weekend. Then he asks if Jefferson will meet Miss Emma in the dayroom the next time she comes, and Jefferson agrees. Grant says that he wants to be Jefferson’s friend and that he wants him to ask any questions he might have. He offers to bring Jefferson a notebook and pencil so he can write down questions during the day or night. Paul returns to the cell, and Grant asks if Jefferson has any messages for Miss Emma. Jefferson looks at him with pain in his eyes; he tells Grant to thank the children for the pecans. The two shake hands before Paul lets Grant out of the cell.

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Chapter 22 Summary


Chapter 24 Summary