Illustration of a man visiting another man in jail

A Lesson before Dying

by Ernest J. Gaines

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Chapter 27 Summary

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After church, Tante Lou, Miss Emma, Miss Eloise, Inez, and Reverend Ambrose come back to the house for coffee and cake. Grant lies across his bed and looks out the window onto Tante Lou’s garden and Farrell Jarreau’s pecan trees. The sky is low and gray. After a while, Tante Lou comes into Grant’s room and tells him that Reverend Ambrose would like to speak with him. Grant says that the reverend can come in. Before she leaves, Tante Lou stands and looks at Grant.

When Reverend Ambrose enters the room, Grant offers him a seat but they both remain standing. Reverend Ambrose looks around Grant’s room and sees the school papers on the desk. He asks if the children are learning anything, and Grant says that he does his best. The reverend says he also tries to do his best. Then Reverend Ambrose says that Jefferson does not have much time left and that he is not saved. Grant says he cannot help that situation, but Reverend Ambrose points out that Jefferson listens to Grant. The reverend says Grant never thinks about anyone but himself. Grant says he has his own work to do, just like the reverend has his.

Reverend Ambrose says that he and Miss Emma are going back to the jail tomorrow and that he will talk with Jefferson about God. Grant is not sure this is what Jefferson needs or wants to hear. Reverend Ambrose wants Grant to help him prepare Jefferson for a better world, but Grant does not believe in another world. The reverend challenges Grant’s education by saying that even though he went to college, he learned nothing about how to deal with people or himself. Reverend Ambrose says that he is the one who is educated and that he will not allow Grant to send Jefferson’s soul to hell.

Grant says that he will not go back to the jail, but Reverend Ambrose says that Grant owes it to Miss Emma. Grant does not believe he owes anyone anything. Reverend Ambrose says that everyone has felt the same way at one time or another, but he wants Jefferson to realize that he owes much to Miss Emma. He tells Grant to convince Jefferson to get on his knees before Miss Emma on the day of his execution. Grant refuses—he thinks a man should stand. The reverend says that Grant is lost. Yet Grant stands his ground—the reverend wants Grant to lie to Jefferson about the existence of heaven, but Grant says that he will never lie to Jefferson in his last moments. Reverend Ambrose says that sometimes one must lie to relieve the pain and suffering of other people.

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Chapter 26 Summary


Chapter 28 Summary