Illustration of a man visiting another man in jail

A Lesson before Dying

by Ernest J. Gaines

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Chapter 9 Summary

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At 1:30, Grant leaves the school to drive Miss Emma into Bayonne. Tante Lou helps Miss Emma into the car, and the two ladies continue their conversation. Grant says they need to be at the jail by two o’clock, and he senses both women staring at him. As they drive in silence along the river, Grant notices Miss Emma look at him only once or twice. The rest of the time, she does not look at anything in particular, lost in her thoughts. Grant parks in front of the courthouse, and they go inside. Miss Emma tells the deputy she is there to see Jefferson. He asks Miss Emma about her parcels; she has brought food and clean clothes for Jefferson. The deputy tells her that Jefferson has been quiet since he has been in the jail. The deputy checks through the basket of food and the bag of clothes, and he makes Grant empty his pockets before he pats him down. Grant and Miss Emma are then taken through the jail to Jefferson’s cell.

As the deputy escorts Grand and Miss Emma through the corridors, the black prisoners reach out of their cells and ask for money or cigarettes. Grant gives them the change he has in his pockets, and Miss Emma promises to give them any leftover food after the visit. Jefferson lies on his bunk staring at the ceiling. The deputy locks Miss Emma and Grant into the cell before he leaves. Miss Emma asks Jefferson how he is doing, but he does not answer. She tells him she has brought Professor Wiggins, food, and clothes, but still he does not answer her. She asks whether he is going to speak to her but he only continues his silence. Miss Emma looks at Grant—she is about to cry. Then Jefferson says, “It don’t matter.” Miss Emma tries to convince him that he matters to her, but he indirectly asks when he will be executed. Miss Emma is confused. Jefferson stares at Grant, who knows exactly what Jefferson means. Grant is uncomfortable and wishes he were anywhere except in the jail, and then Jefferson asks if Grant is the one who will flip the switch during his execution. Jefferson lies back down and again stares at the ceiling.

After an hour, the deputy returns, and Miss Emma tells Jefferson that she is leaving. Jefferson has turned his back to her and now faces the concrete wall. Miss Emma calls out for Jesus, and Grant puts his arms around her.

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