Illustration of a man visiting another man in jail

A Lesson before Dying

by Ernest J. Gaines

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Chapter 5 Summary

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At school, Grant and the children pledge allegiance to the flag before Grant sends them outside to recite their Bible verses. Grant knows the children well and can predict who will recite which verse and who will have prepared for the day’s lesson. The classroom and the church are one in the same: Grant’s desk serves as the collection table on Sundays, and the children’s seats are the benches. School is in session for half the year, from October to April, when the children are not working in the fields. Because the children range from primer to sixth grade, Grant must assign the older children to teach the younger ones while he teaches the third and fourth grades so all the children are reached every day.

Grant still feels bad about snubbing Tante Lou the previous evening; although he tried to be kind to her that morning, she avoided him and pretended to do chores around the house. As a result, little things bother Grant during the school day. A young boy tries to solve a multiplication problem on his fingers. Grant scolds him with a ruler and tells him that problems are to be solved by one’s brain. The boy stares at the chalkboard while wiping away his tears before Grant snatches the chalk from him and solves the problem. Then Grant notices a girl writing a sentence on another board; her writing is on a grossly downward slant. He erases her work and tells her that now she must write six straight sentences. All the children sit with their heads down because Grant is in such a foul mood.

Grant leaves the schoolroom to go out to use the boys’ toilet. On the way, he looks at all the houses on the surrounding plantation—he knows everyone who lives there and he knows their daily routines. When Grant returns from the bathroom, he enters the room from the back and sees a boy playing with a bug on his sleeve rather than doing his schoolwork. Grant approaches from behind and hits the boy over the head with his ruler. As the boy walks out crying, Grant scolds the children and tells them about what is happening to Jefferson. He tells them that the attorney called Jefferson a “hog” and that they must be responsible and hardworking in school. Grant sees the pained looks on the faces of the children, but he offers no sympathy.

At two o’clock, Mr. Farrell Jarreau knocks on the front door of the schoolhouse, so Grant goes out to greet him. Mr. Farrell tells Grant that he can go see Mr. Henri regarding Miss Emma’s plea at five that evening.

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