Illustration of a man visiting another man in jail

A Lesson before Dying

by Ernest J. Gaines

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Chapter 28 Summary

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Grant enters Jefferson’s cell carrying a bag of baked sweet potatoes. Jefferson is sitting on his bunk and says he has been doing alright. The radio is on the floor next to the bed playing a sad cowboy song. Next to the radio lie the notebook and pencil. Grant sees that the lead is worn down and the eraser has been much used. Grant tells Jefferson that he can see he has been writing and asks if it is personal or if he can read it. Jefferson allows Grant to read through the notebook. Jefferson has written on most of the first page. His handwriting is large and awkward. Grant makes out that Jefferson has written about his thoughts and dreams. Jefferson has been having nightmares about walking to his execution. In his dreams, he does not cry nor beg—he simply walks. He questions why the sheriff and deputies do not just starve him or hit him on the head if he is supposed to be a hog. He reckons that a hog walks on four hooves, but he is a man who walks on his own two feet. The last few words in the notebook are hardly visible because the pencil lead had worn down to the nub.

Jefferson asks Grant when Easter will be; Grant replies that tomorrow is Good Friday. Jefferson recalls that Good Friday is the day on which Jesus Christ died and that He did not mumble even a word at the time of his death. Grant asks if Reverend Ambrose spoke with him, and Jefferson says that the reverend told him to pray. Jefferson asks Grant if he thinks Jefferson will go to heaven and whether Mr. Grope, Brother, and Bear went to heaven. Grant says he does not know. Jefferson asks Grant if he prays, and Grant admits that he does not. Grant says that he is lost, but he wants Jefferson to believe in heaven so that one day maybe Grant will too. Reverend Ambrose has told Jefferson to give up on his life on earth; Jefferson says that everyone is asking too much from him. Jefferson asks Grant if he thinks anyone else would go to the chair for him, but Grant remains quiet. Jefferson then asks Grant if he believes in God. Grant admits that he does. Jefferson says that he wants to die the way Christ died—not saying a word.

Grant asks Jefferson if he needs anything, but all Jefferson wants is for the time to go by quickly so he will no longer have to wait to meet his death. Jefferson goes to the window. He says that all his life he has worked, lived, and behaved in the ways that were expected of him. He wonders why now everyone expects him to be better than everyone else and carry the burdens of so many people. Jefferson sits and offers Grant a sweet potato.

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