A Lesson Before Dying

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A Lesson Before Dying Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It is Monday, and Grant is walking through the schoolyard when he sees his aunt, Reverend Ambrose, and Miss Emma returning from their visit to Jefferson. Grant quickly goes inside his schoolhouse, thinking that it’s almost time to send the children home for the day. Irene has been running the class that afternoon; she tells Grant that she’s assigned the children duties for putting together decorations for the holidays. With these tasks assigned, Grant ends class for the day by telling the students to remember “one person” this Christmas—he doesn’t name the person, but says that everyone knows who he’s talking about. As the students leave, one of the boys tells Grant to stop by Miss Emma’s on his way home.
Irene runs the class more and more frequently: this shows that Grant is becoming more and more invested in teaching Jefferson, seemingly of his own volition. It’s strange that Grant doesn’t name the person he wants the children to remember—it could be Jesus (the person Christians are supposed to remember during Christian), but it could also be Jefferson. Perhaps the ambiguity is intentional: Jefferson has already shown signs of being a Christ-like figure, and these signs will grow more numerous as we approach the end of the book.
Themes
Education Theme Icon
Grant goes to Miss Emma’s house shortly after he sends his students home. There, Emma confronts him, insisting that Grant didn’t tell her the truth about Jefferson: he didn’t like the food or ask about Emma. Emma knows this because she had to hit Jefferson when she visited today. A few days later, Grant overhears his aunt telling Miss Eloise what happened: Jefferson pretended to be asleep when Emma arrived, and when she showed him the food she brought him, he asked if she had corn, the proper food for a hog. Even when Emma showed Jefferson that she brought him clothing and fried chicken, Jefferson continued to call himself a hog, until Emma became so upset that she slapped him.
Emma didn’t fully believe Grant’s lie at the time, and now she knows for a fact that it was false. This reinforces how self-serving the lie was to begin with: Grant lied to Emma about Jefferson to avoid a confrontation, not to make Emma feel any better. Now, Grant is having the confrontation he was trying to avoid, except that it’s much worse than it would have been. Meanwhile, we’re halfway through this novel, and still Jefferson shows little to no signs of improving: it’s unclear what’s going to happen to him.
Themes
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Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
On Monday, Grant sits at Miss Emma’s kitchen table with Reverend Ambrose and his aunt. Emma bursts into tears and asks God what she’s done to deserve this; Reverend Ambrose comforts her by telling her that God is only testing her. Emma insists that Grant must go back to the jailhouse and spend more time with Jefferson. Grant gets up from the table and prepares to leave Miss Emma’s house. Tante Lou angrily tells him that he will go back to the jailhouse. Grant objects to returning on the grounds that Jefferson is only trying to make him feel guilty. Nonetheless, Aunt Lou tells him that he must go back. Without assenting to this, Grant leaves Miss Emma’s house and goes back to his room.
Ambrose’s behavior with Miss Emma is a good example of the kind of comfort that Christianity affords its followers. If God is testing Emma, then Emma has reason to stay strong and brave her fears that Jefferson will be executed like a hog. Though Grant scoffs at the church, there is value in this kind of religious reassurance. Grant’s objection to going back to the jailhouse is very revealing: Jefferson is only trying to make other feels guilty. While this isn’t a sign of much maturity or self-worth on Jefferson’s part, it does suggest that Jefferson cares about other people, even if he only cares about them insofar as he can make them feel bad.
Themes
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Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon