Illustration of a man visiting another man in jail

A Lesson before Dying

by Ernest J. Gaines

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Chapter 7 Summary

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The following Monday, Farrell Jarreau brings news that the Superintendent of Schools plans to visit sometime during the week, so Grant tells the children to bathe each morning and wear their best clothes to school. Each day, Grant sends one of the children outside to watch for cars coming up the road. There are many false alarms.

The Superintendent finally shows up on Thursday and stops his car in front of the church. Grant goes out to greet him; he can tell the superintendent does not remember his name. After introducing himself, Grant escorts Dr. Joseph up to the church. Dr. Joseph is a large man, and he claims that the weather is very hot even though Grant thinks that the day is particularly cool. There are only a dozen schools to visit during the year, but the Superintendent claims he is busy and tired from running around so much.

Inside, Dr. Joseph comments that things look the same as they did last year, and Grant says that it takes a long time for change to occur in such a small town. Grant offers Dr. Joseph a seat at his desk in front of the classroom. On Grant’s command, the children thank Dr. Joseph for his visit. Dr. Joseph inspects the children by grade level, calling up a few students one by one to his place behind the desk. He looks at their hands and asks them about the Bible verses they recite. He asks one boy to salute the flag and asks the older students about grammar, math, and geography. Afterward, Dr. Joseph inspects the children’s teeth. Grant remembers learning at university that slave masters did the same when buying new slaves.

After giving a speech about nutrition and the value of hard work, Dr. Joseph compliments Grant on his fine work with the children. On the way out, Grant appeals to Dr. Joseph for quality resources and supplies, but Dr. Joseph answers that all the schools are in the same situation. Grant reminds him that their textbooks are handed down from the white schools, but Dr. Joseph will hear none of it. He tells Grant that the children should work in the fields to pay for the things they need. Grant explains that all the money they make goes toward helping their families, but Dr. Joseph dismisses Grant’s comment and heads toward his car—he has another school visit to make. Grant waves as Dr. Joseph drives off, but Dr. Joseph does not wave back.

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Chapter 6 Summary


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