A Lesson Before Dying

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A Lesson Before Dying Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the afternoon, Grant isn’t sure what to tell Emma about his visit. He could lie and say that Jefferson asked about Emma’s health, or that he is a model prisoner. He decides to go to the Rainbow Club to figure out what to say.
Grant seems slightly more concerned about Emma than he was at the beginning of the novel—he’s at least bothering to make up a lie. Still, he prefers to run from his problems, and this is why he goes to the Rainbow Club.
Themes
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
When he arrives at the Rainbow Club, Grant orders a beer, and avoids conversation with Joe Claiborne, the barman. There are some old men talking about Jackie Robinson, who’s just completed his second year with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The men are reenacting Jackie’s athletic feats; this makes Grant think back to the days of Joe Louis, the first black athlete to be nationally famous. When Louis lost a big fight to a white boxer, the entire black community was saddened.
The conversation about Joe Louis is important insofar as it paints a clearer picture of the black community at the time. Black heroes like Louis were a source of inspiration for blacks across the country. Yet it’s significant that Grant remember Louis’s defeats, not his victories: right now, coming from the jailhouse, he’s cynical, and rejects the concept of heroism altogether.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Thinking of Joe Louis reminds Grant of a lecture he once heard while he was in college. The lecturer was an Irishman, and he mentioned the short story “Ivy Day in the Committee Room,” by James Joyce, from the collection Dubliners. The lecturer spoke of a character named Parnell, and claimed that Joyce’s story was universal, crossing all boundaries of race and nationality. Afterwards, Grant tried to find a copy of Joyce’s book. He succeeded with the help of one of his professors, who had to go to a white university to find the story in an anthology. Grant read the story, and didn’t understand it; it was only years later, when he began spending time in bars, that he began to see the universal of the story, which is about sad, old men who talk about their dead heroes.
Joyce’s short story is about Charles Stuart Parnell, an Irish hero who worked toward Irish independence but was brought down by a personal scandal. In part, the point of Joyce’s story is that people have more respect for martyrs than they do for the living; put another way, humans would rather lament what might have been than ensure that change comes about. This is a depressing conclusion, particularly for Grant, because it suggests that real change is impossible: change will only ever be “a dream deferred.”
Themes
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Grant finishes his drink and leaves the bar, bidding farewell to Claiborne. He goes to the local school, where Vivian teaches, and walks inside. A teacher named Peggy greets Grant, and he says hello back to her. He goes to Vivian’s classroom, where she has just finished a day of teaching sixth and seventh graders. When Grant walks in, she smiles beautifully at him. He suggests that they join Peggy for a drink, but then thinks better of it and suggests that they go somewhere alone. Vivian, however, wants to drink with Peggy.
Here, once again, Vivian shows that she’s more invested in other people than Grant is. Vivian’s classroom is better-funded and better organized than Grant’s: where Grant has to make do with a student teacher and a single classroom, Vivian has other teachers for colleagues, and teaches her classes separately, instead of at the same time. Grant wants to be alone with Vivian; but she has friends, and a broader social life.
Themes
Education Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
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Grant tells Vivian about visiting Jefferson, watching him behave like an animal, and having to see Emma later. Vivian is saddened by the news. Grant says he wishes he could leave his responsibilities to his students and to Jefferson, but Vivian replies that he can’t—he loves the people to whom he’s responsible. Grant and Vivian leave to get a drink with Peggy; as they walk out of Vivian’s classroom, Vivian notes that everyone at school, even the students, know that the two of them are in a relationship.
Vivian encourages Grant to remain invested in his students and Jefferson. Yet she doesn’t exactly tell him to change his behavior; she reminds him of what he already feels, deep down. This is part of what Grant loves about Vivian: she sees the good in him.
Themes
Education Theme Icon
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon