Illustration of a man visiting another man in jail

A Lesson before Dying

by Ernest J. Gaines

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Chapter 25 Summary

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After the visit, Miss Emma, Tante Lou, and Reverend Ambrose drive back to the quarter, but Grant heads to the back of town to the Rainbow Club. Grant wants to tell Vivian about the success he had with Jefferson. After their talk, Grant and Jefferson went back to the table and ate Miss Emma’s gumbo even though it was cold, which made Miss Emma proud. Grant does not want to tell her about the envy he saw in Reverend Ambrose’s eye. Vivian is not at the bar yet, so Grant decides to have a drink while he waits. Grant is in a good mood, and he wants to tell Vivian that because he is now more relaxed and not so worried about Jefferson, he will be able to be more intimate with her.

Grant overhears two mulatto bricklayers who are drinking at a table say “nigger” a few times. He has seen the men before. Like other mulattoes in the area who go into skilled trades to avoid working next to blacks in the fields and sitting next to them in classrooms, the men are prejudiced. Grant listens to their conversation and realizes they are talking about Jefferson’s execution and saying it should have been done a long time ago. Grant looks around the bar and sees that Joe Claiborne and the old men at the bar have heard the men’s rants about Jefferson. Grant tries to block out the conversation because he cannot allow the men’s talk to destroy his good feelings about the day.

Grant finishes his drink and turns to look at the men. The men see him looking and grow quiet before the taller man says something that makes the other laugh. Grant walks up to their table and says, “Shut up.” The man gets up, but Grant hits him before he can block the punch, and he falls over the back of the chair. The other man jumps up, and Grant punches him in the mouth. Joe Claiborne comes from behind the bar and yells at the men that he wants no fighting in his bar. Claiborne wrestles with one of the men, and the other swings at Grant, who keeps up his guard. Then the man hits Grant with his arm, knocking him to the floor. Grant kicks him and gets back to his feet, continuing the fight. Thelma comes out swinging a broom, and Claiborne yells for someone to go find Vivian. The men begin to throw chairs at each other, and the noise in the room is impenetrable. Then a blow to the head causes Grant to see only darkness. He can hear a voice before his sight returns—Vivian is standing over him. Claiborne tells her to get Grant out of the bar before the police arrive.

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Chapter 24 Summary


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