A Lesson Before Dying

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A Lesson Before Dying Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After talking with Grant, the sheriff goes to Jefferson’s cell and asks him if he wants to appear before his family in the dayroom wearing shackles. Jefferson replies that he’ll do it if that’s what they want; this reply frustrates the sheriff, but eventually he agrees to send Jefferson to the dayroom when Ambrose, Emma, and Lou and next visit the jailhouse.
In his jailed state, Jefferson wields some power over Sheriff Guidry, because nothing the sheriff does can threaten Jefferson—he’s already been sentenced to death. In this way, Jefferson isn’t so far from Grant—they both refuse to submit to racist bullies like Guidry.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
When Ambrose, Emma, and Lou next see Jefferson, they’re shown into the dayroom of the jail. Then, Paul goes to get Jefferson from his cell. He marches Jefferson into the dayroom, wearing shackles on his hands and legs. In the dayroom, Emma shows Jefferson that she’s brought him a feast of beef, rice, and biscuits. Jefferson doesn’t eat any of the food, even when Emma puts the food next to his mouth. Tante Lou sees the pain and sadness in her face.
Jefferson’s behavior in the dayroom seems little different from his behavior in his cell: he’s disengaged and distant with his guests, even Miss Emma, his own godmother. Yet at least Jefferson doesn’t cause any “trouble”—this means that, as per Guidry’s instructions—Grant can continue meeting him in the jail.
Themes
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Grant goes to see Jefferson in the dayroom a few days after Jefferson sees Miss Emma. Grant brings Jefferson bread, pork chops, and baked sweet potatoes, but Jefferson refuses to eat any of this meal. Grant tells Jefferson about his Christmas program at school, and asks Jefferson if he remembers it from his childhood. Jefferson only responds that Christ was born on Christmas and died on Easter.
Even when they’re discussing Christmas—a holiday of joy celebrating birth, Jefferson can only think ahead to the death that accompanies that birth: Christ was killed at the age of 33. It’s important that Jefferson gets his facts slightly wrong; Easter celebrates Christ’s resurrection, not his death. It’s as if Jefferson, sentenced to death, has forgotten the entire point of Christianity.
Themes
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Grant tells Jefferson that he has a moral obligation to be good to his aunt. Jefferson counters that moral obligations are only for humans, and he is not a human at all, but a hog. He adds that he’s looking forward to being executed, since he’ll get some rest; Grant insists, without any proof, that Jefferson will not be killed on Christmas. Grant is unsure what else to say, but he refuses to leave early, since this would prove to the sheriff that he has failed to help Jefferson. He spends the rest of the visit looking at Jefferson, who has slumped forward in his seat without saying a word.
Again, Grant reaches a stalemate with Jefferson: Jefferson refuses to act morally, because he doesn’t think he’s a man. At least Jefferson doesn’t protest that humans should act morally—his objection is that he’s not human. Again in this section, we see how Grant is motivated by pride and dignity: he refuses to leave the cell early, because this would provide Guidry with proof that Grant isn’t teaching Jefferson anything.
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Women and Femininity Theme Icon
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After talking to Jefferson at the jail, Grant goes to the Rainbow Club and has a few beers. He waits for Vivian to end her school day, and then drives to her schoolhouse, where he picks her up and goes back to the Rainbow Club. As they drink together, Grant tells Vivian that he loves her so much that he would gladly leave his community to live with her. Vivian replies that she would never ask him to do that: he needs to stay behind and change things. When Grant says that nothing is changing, Vivian insists that “something is.”
Again, faced with the frustration of never seeing any progress or change, Grant shows that he’s tempted to leave his community altogether. Vivian is the voice of reason, reminding him that he has obligations to his family and to Jefferson. It’s not clear what change she sees in Jefferson—in fact, since her only source of information on Jefferson is Grant, it’s likely that she doesn’t see any change at all. Rather, Vivian remains optimistic—her optimism may be irrational, but it’s an important factor in encouraging Grant to stay.
Themes
Education Theme Icon
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon