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A Lesson Before Dying

A Lesson Before Dying Summary


Here you will find a A Lesson Before Dying summary (Ernest J. Gaines's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

A Lesson Before Dying Summary Overview

Grant Wiggins, an educated black man, resides in a rural setting outside of Bayonne, Louisiana, where he works as a teacher. His life takes an unexpected turn when Jefferson, a dim-witted individual, is wrongfully accused of murder and condemned to death. Following a failed attempt to rob a liquor store, Jefferson is found at the crime scene where the shop owner and two accomplices have been killed. During the trial, Jefferson's lawyer argues that he is little more than a "hog" and incapable of such an act. This argument fails to sway the jury, and Jefferson is found guilty. Jefferson's godmother, Miss Emma, deeply disturbed by the lawyer's derogatory comparison, requests that Grant help Jefferson face his impending death with dignity. Initially, Grant is reluctant to involve himself in Jefferson's plight despite witnessing the constant injustices endured by his fellow black men. Yet, coerced by his aunt, Tante Lou, he decides to assist. During the initial visits, Grant, Miss Emma, and Tante Lou find Jefferson sullen and unresponsive, having internalized the lawyer's words. Jefferson stubbornly resists Grant's persistent efforts to instill a sense of dignity within him. However, a breakthrough occurs when Grant brings up the topic of Jefferson's final meal, and Jefferson expresses his wish for a gallon of vanilla ice cream. The shared love for ice cream bridges the gap between them, and Grant further strengthens their bond by gifting Jefferson a radio and a notebook to pen his thoughts. As the execution date looms, Grant's relationships with his girlfriend, Vivian, and Reverend Ambrose become strained. Vivian feels neglected as Grant uses their relationship as a refuge from his troubles, while Reverend Ambrose insists that Grant put his atheistic beliefs aside to help save not just Jefferson's character but his soul. Meanwhile, Jefferson's impending execution becomes a talking point in the town leading to a surge in visitors, which makes Jefferson realize the gravity of his situation. Although he doesn't attend the execution, Grant orders his students to honor Jefferson's memory. The news of Jefferson's brave conduct during the execution leaves Grant with a sense of profound sadness.

chapter 1

Grant Wiggins remembers a trial verdict, despite not being present. He envisions the courtroom scene, the judge, and the lawyers. He imagines his aunt, Tante Lou, sitting rigidly next to the defendant’s godmother, Miss Emma. He also sees Jefferson, the defendant, from behind. He recounts the events leading to the trial. According to Grant, Jefferson was hitching a ride with Brother and Bear, two black youths, to the White Rabbit Bar and Lounge. They stopped at a store where they attempted to get drinks on credit from the proprietor, Alcee Gropé, who refused. An argument ensued and escalated into a fatal shootout that left Alcee, Brother, and Bear dead, with Jefferson as the lone survivor. Grant describes how Jefferson, in a confused state, took a swig of whiskey and stole money from the open cash register, knowing he needed to escape. However, he was caught by two white men entering the store. Grant details how the prosecution framed Jefferson as the mastermind of the robbery and murder scheme. They argued that Jefferson pocketed the cash and celebrated with Alcee's booze. However, Jefferson's lawyer defended him, calling him a boy and a fool incapable of such a crime. The lawyer declared he would rather sentence a hog to the electric chair than a mindless individual like Jefferson. Regardless, the white jury found Jefferson guilty of first-degree robbery and murder after a few hours of deliberation. Shortly after, the judge sentenced Jefferson to death by electrocution.

chapter 2

Upon returning from school on the day of the trial, Grant finds his Aunt Lou and Jefferson’s godmother, Miss Emma, seated at the table. Anticipating their discussion about the trial, Grant swiftly retreats to his room. Nonetheless, he joins them in the kitchen out of politeness. Miss Emma, in deep sorrow, recalls the lawyer's comparison of Jefferson to a hog. She expresses her wish for Jefferson to die as a man, not a hog, and requests Grant to accompany her to the jail to mentor Jefferson. Grant firmly declines, arguing he can't assist Jefferson. Aunt Lou suggests they visit Mr. Henry Pichot, whose brother-in-law, the sheriff, may allow them to visit Jefferson. This proposal infuriates Grant, tempting him to vent about his loathing for the town and his feelings of impotence, but he refrains, knowing his aunt wouldn't understand.

chapter 3

Tante Lou, Miss Emma, and Grant pay a visit to the Pichot estate. They approach from the rear entrance and notify the housemaid of their desire to meet Mr. Pichot. Miss Emma has a long history of serving as the family cook, following the footsteps of her mother and grandmother. Grant’s aunt had laundry duties while Grant himself was in charge of running errands. After college, Grant pledged to never use the back entrance of this property again. After a pause, Henry Pichot and Louis Rougon make an appearance in the kitchen. Miss Emma pleads to Pichot to persuade his brother-in-law into letting Grant visit and teach Jefferson in the prison. Initially, Pichot is reluctant, but Miss Emma recalls the years of service she has given to his family. Pichot quizzes Grant on his plans, to which Grant admits he is uncertain. Grant is careful not to be rude and lowers his gaze when needed. Eventually, Pichot agrees to discuss it with his brother-in-law.

chapter 4

Grant, after leaving Miss Emma, tells his aunt he'll dine in town, offending her in the process. He heads to Bayonne, parking at the Rainbow Club in the darker part of town. There, Thelma Claiborne, the proprietor’s wife, serves him dinner. At his behest, Vivian, his light-skinned girlfriend, joins him. They engage in hushed conversation, during which he suggests escaping the town with her and her kids. She dismisses the proposal as impractical and threatens to depart if he doesn't drop the topic. Vivian questions why he hasn't permanently left town, to which he responds it's because he wants to be with her. She labels him a liar, reminding him of his previous departure to stay with his parents. When asked why he came back, he evades the question. Vivian mentions they can't openly express their love until her divorce is finalized. As they dance, Grant discloses Jefferson’s death sentence. Overwhelmed with anger and fear, he ponders whether he can teach Jefferson to face death when he himself struggles with living.

chapter 5

Grant, who instructs black children up to sixth grade, resumes his teaching at the church-turned-school on the plantation. His sessions only last for five and a half months annually as the children work in the fields the rest of the year. Feeling frustrated, Grant disciplines the children for minor infractions, while they do their best to stay on his good side. He takes a break, strolling outside and examining the nearby houses, aware of the difficult lives of the residents. Back in the classroom, he catches a student distracted by an insect and sternly reprimands him. In his anger, he shares with the class about his mission assigned by Miss Emma, to transform Jefferson into a man before his execution - an endeavor similar to how he is trying to shape them. As class winds down, a small man comes to summon Grant, stating Mr. Henri Pichot's request for his presence.

chapter 6

Upon arriving at the Pichot kitchen, Grant is greeted by a maid who tells him that Sheriff Sam Guidry, Mr. Pichot’s brother-in-law, is due to arrive shortly. While he waits, Grant contemplates his involvement in Jefferson's situation. After some time, he hears Sam Guidry and his wife Edna arrive. Edna later enters the kitchen and bombards Grant with questions, not allowing him any room to respond. She expresses sorrow over Jefferson's predicament and the murder, all while sipping bourbon. Sheriff Sam Guidry, Henri Pichot, Louis Rougon, and an unnamed heavyset man enter the kitchen hours later. On questioning how long Grant has waited, he responds, “About two and a half hours,” regretting his inability to mask his irritation due to his pride. When asked about his plans for Jefferson, Grant admits that he is uncertain. Eventually, Guidry reveals that Grant can visit Jefferson in a few weeks, despite his belief that Grant's attempts will be in vain and that he should let Jefferson die a “contented hog.” The sheriff also warns Grant that any upset caused to Jefferson will result in the revocation of his visitation rights.

chapter 7

In the upcoming weeks, Grant anticipates the yearly visit from the school superintendent. He ensures his students are neat and well-behaved in preparation for the unexpected arrival of the superintendent. The superintendent, Dr. Joseph Morgan, finally shows up, with Grant observing his obesity and difficulty in disembarking from his vehicle. Grant leads Dr. Morgan to his desk and lines up with his pupils. Dr. Morgan selects some students, particularly those seemingly shy or troublesome, for inspection. He examines their oral hygiene and asks them to recite Bible verses. A young boy's failure to recite correctly earns Dr. Morgan's ire and sense of validation. Grant compares this inspection to those done by slave masters. Dr. Morgan stresses the importance of good nutrition, cleanliness, and physical work to the class, praising Grant for his teaching. Grant voices out his displeasure about the poor condition of their school books, which are mainly cast-offs from white schools. This complaint irks Dr. Morgan, who retorts that white schools also face challenges. Before departing, Dr. Morgan proposes that Grant have the students work in the fields to raise funds.

chapter 8

The school gets its winter supply of wood the following week. While his students work on cutting the wood, Grant's mind drifts back to his early school years and his instructor, Matthew Antoine. He remembers Mr. Antoine as a resentful, disillusioned man who detested his job and his pupils. Grant points out that Mr. Antoine, being a mulatto with mixed-race heritage, believed he was better than blacks and disdained their desire to learn in a society that demeaned them. After several years at university, Grant came back to the plantation to teach and decided to pay a visit to Mr. Antoine. Despite advising Grant to give his best, Mr. Antoine was skeptical about his ability to improve matters. In Mr. Antoine's view, the only choice for blacks in the South was to flee.

chapter 9

Grant accompanies Miss Emma to Bayonne jail, where they encounter deputies Clark and Paul. After Paul scrutinizes Emma's package for Jefferson, they are allowed into his cell. They discover Jefferson lying on his bunk, gazing at the ceiling, unresponsive to Emma's queries. He dismisses her food, stating, “It don’t matter.” When asked to elaborate, he merely says, “Nothing don’t matter.” He ambiguously inquires about his execution date. Emma is confused by his question, but Grant comprehends. Despite Emma's attempts to engage, Jefferson remains mostly silent.

chapter 10

Subsequent visits happen in the same way. On the fourth visit's day, Tante Lou informs Grant that Miss Emma is unwell and won't accompany him to the prison. Grant finds Miss Emma in her home, faking a cough. He suspects she and his aunt are setting the stage for him to go to the jail solo. Feeling humiliated by their expectations, Grant expresses his anger. Tearfully, Miss Emma admits to humiliating him, but explains she has no other choice as she needs his help. Grant leaves.

chapter 11

Upon reaching Jefferson's cell, Grant is uncertain of his approach. He questions if Jefferson is hungry. Jefferson counter questions if Grant has any corn with him, pointing out that it's hog food. Displaying an angry smile, Jefferson mimics a hog's behaviour, stooping down to thrust his head into the food bag brought by Grant. Observing this, Grant wonders if it's Jefferson's attempt to instill guilt in him so he would stop bothering him. He mentions that the white men consider Jefferson's situation to be beyond rescue. Jefferson stays silent. Grant is tempted to ask Jefferson about his thoughts, but he resists the urge.

chapter 12

Grant, feeling obligated to shield Miss Emma from the unsettling details of Jefferson's rage, retreats to the Rainbow Club instead. While there, he overhears some men discuss Jackie Robinson, which triggers memories of the community's jubilation over the triumphs of boxer Joe Louis. He thinks of a dream he often had of a young man destined for the electric chair pleading for Joe Louis's help, and wonders if Jefferson would seek similar solace in Jackie Robinson. Feeling overwhelmed, Grant escapes the bar and heads for the local school where Vivian, his love interest, teaches. He finds her alone in her classroom and proposes they abscond together that night. However, she insists on maintaining discretion to prevent her husband from having a reason to claim custody of their children. He informs her of his distressing visit to Jefferson's cell and reiterates his desire to escape the South permanently. She reasons that, despite his resentment towards the South, his affection for his community holds him back. Grant discloses his dissatisfaction with his current state. Before they depart for a drink, Vivian divulges that their secret relationship is common knowledge among her school's staff and pupils.

chapter 13

On Determination Sunday, a day when church goers sing preferred hymns and share their eternal resting places, Emma attends church. Flashing back to last Friday, Grant remembers his conversation with Vivian. On his return, he found Emma and Reverend Ambrose at his home, discussing his recent visit to Jefferson's cell. He falsely reassured them that Jefferson was coping well and had consumed some of Emma's food. Reverend Ambrose, having also visited Jefferson, questioned Grant on whether his teachings to Jefferson were based on Christian beliefs, fearing that Grant's secular views might contradict his religious teachings. Grant, having distanced himself from religious beliefs after years of intensive academic study, felt frustrated by these inquiries. When his aunt gets back from church, Grant spends his time marking papers at his desk. He recalls his involvement with the church until his final year at university when his academic commitments created a rift between him and his faith. This caused tension between him and Tante Lou. He considered Professor Antoine's advice to leave Bayonne permanently, even going so far as to visit his parents in California. Despite this, he returns to teach in Bayonne, still under the strong influence of the black church. In his words, he felt like he was “running in place, unable to accept what used to be my life, unable to leave it.” Unexpectedly, Vivian shows up at Grant's house for a visit.

chapter 14

Vivian visits Grant's home for the first time. He shows her around and serves her coffee and cake. Despite Grant's reassurances about the dishes, she insists on cleaning their plates. They then decide to go for a stroll. Their walk takes them across the plantation, by a graveyard, and into the sugarcane fields. They share an intimate moment in the seclusion of the sugarcane. Post their encounter, they chatter about potential names for their would-be kids, with Grant expressing his reluctance to raise offspring in their present neighborhood.

chapter 15

Vivian expresses her hope that Grant's family will accept her. She shares her past, revealing her origin from the light-skinned mulatto community, Free LaCove, and her secretive marriage to a darker man she met at Xavier University. The confession led to her family's rejection, a situation that persists even after her separation from her spouse. Upon reaching Grant's aunt's home, they encounter Tante Lou, Miss Emma, and others. Grant introduces Vivian to them and attempts to prepare coffee, which his aunt resists as an intrusion into her household duties. This leads to an uneasy atmosphere. Tante Lou inquires about Vivian's roots and faith. Despite Vivian attending a Catholic church, Tante Lou inquires if she would abandon her faith to marry the atheist Grant. Vivian responds that she hopes such a sacrifice would not be necessary, but she would make it if so. This prompts Grant to take Vivian outside. Vivian confides in Grant her relief that other families also criticize their children. Grant argues that his family is unlike hers. This assertion leaves Vivian silent, and she decides to leave. The women commend Vivian's character and urge her to stay true to her Christian faith. After the intense conversation, Vivian departs with Grant. They spot a young black couple walking hand in hand from church, to which Grant silently wishes them, "Good luck."

chapter 16

Upon witnessing Tante Lou, Reverend Ambrose, and Miss Emma return from their time with Jefferson, Grant observes them retreat into Miss Emma's home. Meanwhile, at school, he discovers his students are busy planning the yearly Christmas celebration, prompting him to advise them to remember one particular individual during the festive season, in reference to Jefferson. Grant adheres to Miss Emma’s request for a visit, where she reveals her knowledge of his dishonesty about a past encounter with Jefferson. Miss Emma shares her upsetting experience with Jefferson, in which he aggressively inquired about "corn for a hog", to the point of provoking her to hit him. A frustrated Grant admits his feelings of inadequacy in aiding Jefferson, expressing his unwillingness to harbor guilt over the situation, regardless of Tante Lou's insistence that he persists with his visits.

chapter 17

Over the week, Grant's anger begins to fade. He contemplates his short-lived bouts of anger and his fleeting beliefs. Upon meeting Jefferson on Friday, Grant attempts to discuss the distress Jefferson's situation causes Miss Emma, but it falls on deaf ears. Jefferson argues that his perspective on love and compassion would differ if he was the one facing execution. He claims he never asked for life and expresses his irritation at Grant's visits, even threatening to create a scene. However, Grant interprets Jefferson's hostility as a sign he needs him. Jefferson discards social etiquette, claiming it's only necessary for the living, before throwing his food on the floor. Following a meeting with the sheriff, Guidry, Grant is left standing as Guidry finishes a phone call. Guidry later confronts Grant about Jefferson's progress, to which Grant honestly replies he sees none, causing Guidry's anger. Grant learns that Miss Emma had requested a meeting with Jefferson in a more comfortable setting, which fuels Guidry's rage. Grant refutes Guidry's claim that he had pushed Miss Emma to make such a request. Guidry consults Clark and Frank, a “fat man,” on what to do next. Clark insists Jefferson stays in his cell while Frank refrains from giving his opinion. In the end, Guidry decides to ask Jefferson for his preference, but asserts that regardless of the location, Jefferson will remain shackled.

chapter 18

Guidry honors his earlier commitment and inquires if Jefferson would prefer to interact with his guests in the dayroom. Jefferson agrees. Miss Emma, Tante Lou, and Reverend Ambrose come to see Jefferson in the dayroom where his limbs are bound in chains. Miss Emma attempts to feed him at the table, but he declines to eat. Grant also pays Jefferson a visit, but Jefferson continues to reject food. The topic of the Christmas program comes up, prompting Jefferson to question if Christmas was the birth or death of Christ. Grant clarifies that Christ was born on Christmas and explains that Easter is when Christ was crucified. Grant then asks Jefferson his understanding of "moral", emphasizing the duty humans owe to each other. Jefferson, however, maintains his belief that he is a hog rather than a human being.

chapter 19

The townsfolk have found a pine tree and collectively gathered funds to purchase clothing for Jefferson. Grant's students perform a Christmas program, with Reverend Ambrose commencing it with a prayer, reflecting on the ignorance of those who consider themselves educated but do not revere the Lord. Grant swallows his annoyance. The Christmas program included a moving rendition of "'Twas the Night before Christmas", which stirs deep emotions among the audience. However, Grant finds himself disheartened by the repetitiveness of their yearly tradition, questioning if their town will ever evolve. A child presents Grant with some food that is meant for Jefferson, leaving him watching the intended gift.

chapter 20

Jefferson's execution date is determined, prompting Grant to visit Henri Pichot's home, where Reverend Ambrose is already present. Sheriff Guidry's arrival is promised by the housekeeper, which Grant doubts initially until Guidry shows up. Guidry reveals Jefferson's fate: death on the second Friday after Easter, within the hours of noon and three. The execution was scheduled away from Easter or Lent, as per the Mayor's preference. Grant's resentment grows, considering that white men have not only convicted Jefferson but also decided his execution date. He ponders over the morality of a man determining another's death date and questions if such a procedure can be classified as justice.

chapter 21

Grant drops by to see ailing Miss Emma, wishing he could leave after a brief stay. Upon leaving, he heads back to his aunt's place and is visited by Vivian. She expresses a desire to see Miss Emma but is unsure if it's the right time. Grant opens up about his wish for Vivian to be more integrated in his life, despite his aunt's potential disapproval. They decide to head out and check on Miss Emma. During their visit, Vivian whispers to Miss Emma, leaving her visibly content. At the Rainbow Club, Grant and Vivian engage in a heart-to-heart over glasses of brandy. He shares his thoughts on why his aunt and Miss Emma expect so much from him. They want to take pride in him, much like how Miss Emma does with Jefferson. Vivian, puzzled, puts down her glass. Grant continues, explaining the history of black men's failure to provide security for their women, leading to a loss of will or abandonment. He underlines that even the ones attempting to alter this status quo crumble under the weight of the failures of their predecessors, stuck in a relentless cycle. According to him, this is why Miss Emma and Tante Lou are so attached to him; they see him as a deviation from the norm. However, in doing so, they unknowingly impose a crushing burden on him, hastening his downfall. When Vivian asks him how to escape this cycle, he answers, “It’s up to Jefferson, my love.”

chapter 22

Grant visits Jefferson in jail. Paul, though hesitant, checks the food package meant for the prisoner. Their conversation runs smoother this time around. Jefferson reveals a wish for a gallon of vanilla ice cream, compensation for a life with less than enough of the treat. He expresses interest in Grant's proposition to bring him a radio. Grant turns to the Rainbow Club patrons to borrow money. With the collected funds, he visits a store in the city to purchase a small radio. Despite an attempt by the white clerk to give him the display unit, Grant insists on a brand new one. With the new radio in hand, he heads to the courthouse. After securing approval from the sheriff, he hands over the radio to Paul for delivery to Jefferson.

chapter 23

Miss Emma, Tante Lou, and Reverend Ambrose pay Jefferson a visit in his cell because he won't leave his radio. They discover him lying on his bunk, silently staring at the wall and listening to music. After their visit, Tante Lou accuses Grant of causing Jefferson's behavior. Reverend Ambrose criticizes the radio's negative influence on Jefferson, which angers Grant. The previous Friday, Jefferson had shown signs of opening up to Grant, so he refuses to remove the radio and risk reversing this progress. Later, Grant visits Jefferson again, bringing with him a large bag of nuts collected by his students. He convinces Jefferson to agree to meet Miss Emma in the dayroom next time. He also suggests bringing a notebook for Jefferson to jot down his thoughts, which Jefferson accepts. As Grant is leaving, Jefferson, somewhat reluctantly, asks him to thank the children for the nuts. This request fills Grant with joy, and he feels a spiritual awakening. He resists the urge to embrace Jefferson, opting to give his hand a friendly squeeze before parting.

chapter 24

Grant accompanies Miss Emma to see Jefferson, bringing a notebook and pencil along. Jefferson initially resists eating in the dayroom. As an attempt to engage him, Grant suggests a walk around the room. Throughout their walk, Grant shares his perspective on heroism, stating that a hero performs acts that others cannot or do not. Grant admits he's not a hero, but asserts that Jefferson has the potential to be one. He speaks of the prevalent white misconception about blacks being less than human. He admits his inability and the reverend's unwillingness to challenge this misconception, but believes Jefferson can. Grant conveys to Jefferson that he needs him more than Jefferson needs him. During their conversation, both Jefferson and Grant are moved to tears.

chapter 25

Unable to locate Vivian at the Rainbow Club, Grant settles at the bar and orders a beverage. Behind him, two mixed-race bricklayers converse with a volume meant to attract his attention. They make harsh remarks about Jefferson, suggesting his execution should have already transpired. Grant attempts to maintain his composure but eventually snaps. He confronts them, demanding their silence. His confrontation escalates into a physical altercation, resulting in Grant being knocked out.

chapter 26

Grant regains consciousness in Vivian's room after being knocked out by Claiborne during a fight he couldn't prevent. Vivian, despite her distaste for violence, invites him to stay overnight. He considers refusing, aware of her husband's potential return for their kids. However, Vivian expresses her need for more understanding from him. This upsets Grant, causing him to leave the room and stand by the front door. He gazes out into the night, reluctant to leave what he cares for behind in Vivian's home. After contemplating for a bit, he goes back to the kitchen and seeks comfort in Vivian's presence, resting his head in her lap.

chapter 27

In a discussion with Grant, Reverend Ambrose seeks his assistance in teaching Jefferson about God. However, Grant, who has lost faith in the church, declines to assist the reverend. This angers Reverend Ambrose who scolds Grant, referring to him as a "boy" and accuses him of being ignorant due to his lack of understanding of people. Grant refutes this, stating he can't mislead Jefferson by feigning belief in heaven or the Bible. Reverend Ambrose confesses that he lies to alleviate people's suffering, arguing that individuals often deceive themselves and others to make life more tolerable. He also reveals that Tante Lou has been dishonest with Grant his entire life, claiming she was okay when in reality she was laboring strenuously to fund his college education.

chapter 28

During Grant's subsequent visit to Jefferson, he discovers the notebook on the floor. He notices that Jefferson has written extensively on the first page, about dying and the distinction between men and pigs. He inquires about Jefferson's last encounter with Reverend Ambrose and learns that the Reverend urged Jefferson to pray, but Jefferson is sceptical about heaven's existence. Grant confesses that he also doesn't pray due to his lack of faith, and admits to feeling directionless. He shares his desire for Jefferson to have faith, hoping it might inspire him to believe as well. Jefferson is bewildered by Reverend Ambrose's advice to surrender his belongings, given that he owns very little. Grant assures him that he has love to offer. Jefferson feels burdened by everyone's expectations of him, questioning whether Miss Emma or Grant would sacrifice themselves for him. He questions Grant's belief in God, with Grant affirming his faith. Jefferson wishes to face his death silently, like Christ. He expresses his frustration at being expected to change after having spent his life appeasing others and fulfilling what he considered God's expectations. Seeing Grant lower his gaze, Jefferson accuses him of being unable to face him. Grant looks up to find Jefferson standing upright. Jefferson queries Grant about the sensation of execution. Despite avoiding eye contact, Grant accepts a sweet potato from Jefferson.

chapter 29

Jefferson's diary forms this section, filled with his uneducated, misspelled ramblings. Occasionally, he directs his words to Grant, musing about the daily lives of his fellow prisoners and questioning why the poor are burdened more than the rich, making a cynical conclusion about God's preference for whites. Jefferson contemplates Grant's belief in his worthiness, searching for evidence to prove it. He realizes he had always set low expectations for himself. The week leading up to his execution, Jefferson notes visits from Sheriff Guidry, Mr. Pichot, and Mr. Morgan. He overhears a wager between Guidry and Morgan on whether Grant's efforts will succeed, which Morgan doubts. Pichot inquires about Jefferson's wellbeing and sharpens his pencil, giving it to him with Guidry's consent. Over the next days, various townfolk visit him, including his friend Bok, who gifts him a marble, leaving Jefferson moved by the unprecedented attention. On his final night, Jefferson is visited by Vivian and Grant. Embarrassed by his unkept appearance, he's reassured by Vivian's affirmations of his strength and attractiveness. He apologizes to Grant for his earlier breakdown, attributing his sentimental reaction to Grant's unique kindness, as no one ever made him feel significant. Guidry inquires about Jefferson's final meal request, and he asks for home-cooked food and ice cream. Post-meal and shower, when Guidry asks if he was cared for adequately, Jefferson agrees and is advised to note it down. Guidry offers to keep the lights on for him to continue writing. Sleep eludes Jefferson, and he decides to witness his last sunrise. He forgoes listening to the radio, believing it to be for the living. As fear grips him, Jefferson stays resolute, bidding farewell to Mr. Wiggins and asking him to convey his final message of being a man. He plans to pass the diary to Paul for Grant.

chapter 30

A black truck covered by a gray tarp arrives in town on the eve of Jefferson's execution, drawing the attention of the townsfolk as it heads towards the courthouse. That evening, Grant and Vivian are at the Rainbow Club where Vivian decides her students will be praying until the execution is over. After bidding Vivian goodnight, Grant drives aimlessly before returning to his aunt's place, noticing activity at Miss Emma’s home but choosing not to stop. The following morning, a nervous Sheriff Guidry, who has never managed an execution before, muses about his conversation with Grant, who declined to witness the execution, and Reverend Ambrose, who was permitted to attend. Guidry also extended an invitation for another member from the quarter to come. After his breakfast, Guidry oversees the unloading process at the courthouse. He then instructs Paul, to shave Jefferson as per the executioner, Henry Vincent's instructions. During the process, Jefferson calmly asks Paul to pass his notebook to Grant and suggests Paul keep the radio. When Paul declines, Jefferson insists the radio be given to the other prisoners and gives Paul a marble as a token. On being queried if he will be present for the execution, Paul affirms he will.

chapter 31

As Jefferson's execution time draws near, Grant finds himself outside the school, recallng memories of past friends, many who have died violently. He holds back his tears for Jefferson noting that there are too many like him to grieve for. He contemplates reaching out to Vivian or Reverend Ambrose, admiring the Reverend's bravery in finding solace in the white man's God. Grant questions whether he's led Jefferson astray from his faith, and if so, asks for his forgiveness. He voices his trust in Jefferson. With ten minutes left till noon, Grant arranges his students in a row and instructs them to kneel. He leaves them again, pondering what Jefferson might be doing and questions why he isn't with him or praying with his pupils. Resenting the God acknowledged by Jefferson's convicting jurors, Grant asserts that his understanding of their faith comes from his own experience of feeling like a "slave." Eventually, Paul drives up to the church to deliver Jefferson's notebook to Grant. He describes Jefferson as a figure of incredible strength in his final moments. He commends Grant as a great teacher, assisting Jefferson's transformation, though Grant modestly suggests that perhaps Jefferson or even God was the catalyst for the change. Paul extends his hand in friendship, which Grant accepts. Returning to his students, Grant faces them and lets his tears flow.

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