Illustration of a man visiting another man in jail

A Lesson before Dying

by Ernest J. Gaines

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Chapter 3 Summary

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Grant’s 1946 gray Ford is parked outside; Tante Lou, Miss Emma, and Grant go out to drive to see Henri Pichot. Grant resents being forced to both see Mr. Henri and act as chauffeur for his aunt and Miss Emma. As he drives past the church where he teaches school, Grant thinks about all the work he has to do and reminds himself that he needs to see about getting more firewood for the heater. When they arrive at Henri Pichot’s house, Grant tells his aunt to stay in the car when she tries to get out to open the gate; he remarks that he has nothing to do all day but serve her. Mr. Henri’s yard is full of farming equipment, and the drive is rutted from the large tires. Grant does not go out of his way to avoid the ruts, and he can feel Tante Lou staring at him from the back seat. Grant parks the car near the back door. Tante Lou wants him to go inside, but Grant reminds her that she was the one who told him to never go in anyone’s back door ever again. Tante Lou insists, so the three go to the back door, where they are met by Mr. Henri’s maid, Inez Lane. Inez says Mr. Henri is in his library speaking to Mr. Louis, and she leaves to get him after inviting the three into the kitchen.

Grant visited that kitchen many times as a child: Miss Emma was Mr. Henri’s cook back then, and Grant would bring wood and food to the house. Tante Lou did the laundry. When Grant left to attend university, his aunt told him to never use the back door again. But here he is, watching as Miss Emma and Tante Lou look around at the changes in the kitchen.

Grant hears Mr. Henri ask Inez what Miss Emma wants, and Inez returns to the kitchen. Before Inez can go back to the library, Mr. Henri and Louis Rougon enter. Miss Emma tells Mr. Henri she needs a favor from him, and Mr. Henri says he can do nothing to change the ruling against Jefferson. Miss Emma says that she simply wants him to ask his brother-in-law, the sheriff, to allow Grant permission to visit Jefferson because she is too old to make the continual trips to the jail herself. Mr. Henri asks Grant if he believes that he can make a man out of Jefferson, and Grant replies that he does not know.

Mr. Henri tells Miss Emma to forget her plan and simply let Reverend Mose visit Jefferson. But this is not good enough for Miss Emma—she is concerned for his soul and his dignity. Again, Mr. Henri tells Miss Emma to forget her plan and go home, but Miss Emma says she has done much for the Pichot family over the years and Mr. Henri should not forget her service. Mr. Henri claims that Jefferson is guilty, but Miss Emma does not want to argue Jefferson’s innocence—she only wants the chance to make him a man. Mr. Henri finally agrees to ask his brother-in-law for the favor the next time he sees him. Miss Emma says that she will return the next day on her knees to see that Mr. Henri asks in a timely manner. Then the three leave the Pichot home.

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Chapter 2 Summary


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