Illustration of a man visiting another man in jail

A Lesson before Dying

by Ernest J. Gaines

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Chapter 30 Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 743

Sidney deRogers is on his way to mow someone’s lawn when a black truck with a gray tarpaulin cover passes him. He thinks it is just another truck delivering goods to one of the stores. After mowing, the mistress of the house, Lucy, tells him that she needs white thread from Edwin’s so Sidney drives to the store for her. Parked beside the courthouse is the same black truck, and there are hordes of people standing on the sidewalk. The saleswoman at Edwin’s is trying to see what is going on, and she cannot even be bothered to help Sidney find the thread or take his money.

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The night before, Tante Lou did not sleep at home—she and many of the other elders in the quarter spent the night with Miss Emma. Vivian and Grant sat together at a corner table at the Rainbow Club, but Vivian never finished her drink. She went to church after school and would go again in the morning. She told Grant that from noon until the time of Jefferson’s execution, she would have her students on their knees beside their desks. Grant left the Club at ten-thirty, but he did not want to go home, so he drove to another bar in Port Allen. He met someone there who wanted to talk about Jefferson, so he left to drive home.

Reverend Ambrose did not sleep that night. In the morning, he eats slowly, thinking about what he has to do later in the day. The sheriff has given him permission to be one of the witnesses, and he has chosen the Twenty-third Psalm to recite at the jail. He prays that God will give him strength.

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Sheriff Guidry is up early on the morning of the execution so he can arrive at the jail by seven-thirty. The electric chair is supposed to arrive at eight o’clock, and he must see to it that everything is set up properly. He does not look at his wife, Edna, when he says that he has hoped this day would never come, but now that it is here, he must see that it goes smoothly.

Melvina Jack is sweeping the sidewalk outside Edwin’s when the black truck drives by and parks next to the courthouse. She and Juanita watch the men unload the wooden-backed chair from the bed of the truck. It is all Melvina can do to stay on her feet at the sight of it.

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Latest answer posted August 24, 2011, 10:58 pm (UTC)

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Two men and two deputies carry the electric chair into the courthouse and place it in the storeroom while the sheriff and the executioner, Henry Vincent, supervise. Vincent tells the other men to place the chair near the window so the wires can be attached to the generator outside on the truck. People in the crowd outside the courthouse gossip about the chair and the fate that it brings.

Clay Lemon has just gotten out of the car to go into the bank when he hears an awful noise. A white couple pauses in the doorway to the bank—the woman says that the whole town must be able to hear the noise. Her husband says that the deputies are just testing the chair to make sure it works correctly. Inside, the clerk tells the couple that her son asked her the night before about what would happen at the jail today, and she told him the police had “to put an old bad nigger away.”

Paul is in the office when the sheriff arrives with the executioner and special deputies. The executioner instructs the sheriff to get someone to shave Jefferson; the shave must be close on the head and on the wrist and leg where the electrodes will be attached. Guidry tells Paul to carry out the order, but Paul asks if there is someone else who can do it. The barber is not there, so Paul goes with Claude Guerin to get a prisoner named Murphy from his cell to shave Jefferson. The men try to avoid making eye contact while shaving him. On his way out, Paul asks Jefferson if he needs anything. Jefferson requests that the notebook be given to Grant and the knife to Mr. Henri; he asks that Paul keep the marble. The radio will be put in the dayroom for the other prisoners. Jefferson asks Paul if he will be there at the execution, and Paul says he will.

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