Illustration of a man visiting another man in jail

A Lesson before Dying

by Ernest J. Gaines

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Chapter 24 Summary

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Miss Emma thinks it would be best if she, Tante Lou, Grant, and Reverend Ambrose visit Jefferson all together. Although Grant does not want to be around Reverend Ambrose, he agrees to meet them at the jail. On the way through Bayonne, Grant remembers his promise to Jefferson and stops to buy a notebook and pencil. He arrives a few minutes late and Tante Lou and Reverend Ambrose are angry. Grant decides to not explain because he figures that they will not understand. Paul is not at the jail, so the chief deputy conducts the search and leads them down the corridor to the dayroom.

The women set the table before Jefferson is brought into the room. One can hear the noise of the shackles long before Jefferson enters with the chief deputy. Miss Emma has made gumbo, and she spoons food into the bowls. Grant begins to eat, but he is the only one—Reverend Ambrose is preparing to say grace. The reverend begins with “The Lord’s Prayer” and afterward begins to give thanks and blessings. At the end of the prayer, the elders say “Amen” but Jefferson and Grant remain quiet. Miss Emma asks Jefferson if he wants to eat, but Jefferson says he is not hungry. Grant chats with him about the notebook and pencil and the gifts the children had sent, all the while avoiding Miss Emma’s looks.

Grant asks Jefferson if he wants to talk, and the two stand. Tante Lou and Reverend Ambrose continue eating, but they look uneasy. Grant and Jefferson walk away from the table. Once they are far enough away from the table, Grant says that he wants Jefferson to be good to his godmother. Grant asks Jefferson if he knows what a hero is, and Grant admits that he can never be a hero because he feels stuck in his life and his career and always wants to run away. He tells Jefferson that he has an opportunity to be a hero to Miss Emma. Grant says that whites never want blacks to stand and think and that Jefferson should not let them get the better of him. Grant asks Jefferson to look at him, and he can see that Jefferson has been crying. Grant tells him that he needs him and that Jefferson has the chance to be bigger and more dignified than anyone else they know. Jefferson appears touched, and Grant also cries. They return to the table.

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Chapter 23 Summary


Chapter 25 Summary