A Lesson Before Dying

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A Lesson Before Dying Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator comes home from school on Monday afternoon and sees his aunt sitting in his kitchen with Miss Emma, the last person he wants to see. He retires to his bedroom without either of them seeing him, and tries to think of a way to greet Miss Emma quickly and then leave. He thinks about going to the Rainbow Club in Bayonne to do work.
The narrator is still unnamed, but we still get a sense for the kind of man he is. He isn’t sympathetic or emotional as the people around him are: instead of trying to comfort Miss Emma, he tries to avoid her altogether; indeed, he’s thinking about doing work, not the trial.
Themes
Education Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
The narrator’s aunt, who he addresses as Tante Lou, enters the room. She asks him why he hasn’t spoken to Miss Emma, and tells him that Miss Emma needs to talk to him. He replies that he has to go to Bayonne “for school,” but Lou insists that he can spare some time today—they look at each other, and silently they both recognize that the narrator knows what’s happened to Jefferson.
The wordless communication that goes on between Lou and Grant in this moment establishes the strength of the bond between both characters. Throughout the book, Lou will compel Grant to do things he doesn’t want to do. Grant does these things because he respects Lou, and recognizes that she’s devoted her life to raising him, even if he does them grudgingly. At this point, that bond strikes Grant as an obligation more than a source of strength.
Themes
Education Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
The narrator, who Lou addresses as Grant, goes to the kitchen to talk to Miss Emma. Emma’s full name is Emma Glenn, and Grant thinks that she is about seventy years old. No one has ever called her anything but “Miss Emma,” with the exception of Jefferson, who called her “Nannan.” Miss Emma tells Grant that the defense attorney called Jefferson a hog. She tells Grant that she wants him to teach Jefferson to be a man, not a hog, before he’s killed; though she tells Grant he doesn’t have to do it, Grant can see from her expression that she wants him to.
In this section, we’re given the basic problem that the plot must solve: Jefferson must learn to be a man before he dies, to find his self-worth and dignity even as he faces death. It may seem strange that Emma and the others don’t want to help Jefferson fight the verdict, but in the racist society of the time the white-dominated court system offers no realistic chance at an appeal. And so the black characters are resigned to his death, even if they’re optimistic about his self-worth. Emma says Grant doesn’t have to do anything, but the bonds of the community make him feel that it is impossible for him to do nothing (even though he really does want to do nothing).
Themes
Education Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Grant tells Miss Emma that he only knows how to teach what white people have taught him to teach, the “three R’s”: reading, writing, arithmetic. Nevertheless, his aunt tells Miss Emma that he’ll help Jefferson. Lou and Emma tell Grant that they must all go and talk to Henri Pichot, the brother-in-law of the local sheriff. Grant insists, however, that he must go to Bayonne; when Lou protests, he insists that Jefferson is already dead, even if he won’t be electrocuted for a month. He says that his job is to teach the young not to end up like Jefferson. Aunt Lou seems to ignore what Grant says, and insists that he accompany her and Miss Emma in the town’s “quarter”. Grant wants to tell his aunt that he is no teacher, but he knows that she won’t listen to him, and prepares to head to the quarter.
We learn that Grant is a schoolteacher, but also that he has no respect for his own profession. It’s strange to think that things as basic as reading and writing could be seen as tools of racist oppression, as Grant clearly thinks of them—perhaps they’re tools of oppression in the sense that they don’t give blacks the skills they need to improve their lives, and thus waste their time. In any event, Grant obeys Lou as he has earlier in the chapter: for all his lack of sympathy for Miss Emma, he respects his family members.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
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