A Lesson Before Dying

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A Lesson Before Dying Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Grant drives Emma and Lou away from Pichot’s house. He drops off Emma at her house, and his aunt gets out of the car, too. She tells Grant she’ll be home later to cook dinner; Grant replies that he’ll be in Bayonne instead. She walks into Emma’s house, and he thinks that he’s being very hurtful—he’s always supposed to eat his aunt’s food. Grant drives away from Emma’s house, thinking about all the schoolwork he has to do, but also realizing that he won’t be able to concentrate on any of it. He needs to see Vivian.
Grant behaves badly in these early chapters, often knowingly displeasing Lou. At the same time, he recognizes that what he’s doing is wrong, and knows that he should have eaten her food. (This moment will echo later in the novel when Jefferson eats Miss Emma’s gumbo.) It’s darkly amusing that Grant only now decides that he won’t be able to concentrate on schoolwork—it seemed obvious that he wasn’t going to get much done the day a man was sentenced to death.
Themes
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As Grant drives, he thinks about Bayonne. It is a town of 6000 people, about 3500 of white and 2500 black. There is a Catholic church for whites and a different Catholic church for blacks; there is also a Catholic school and a public school for whites, and a Catholic school and a public school for blacks.
Bayonne is an oddity in the sense that it’s mixed almost 50-50 between blacks and whites. Yet it’s important that there are slightly more whites than blacks. This suggests the balance of power in Bayonne: blacks may have some strength in numbers, but whites are more powerful nonetheless.
Themes
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Grant arrives at the Rainbow Club, and sees Joe Claiborne, who owns it and runs the bar. He orders dinner from Thelma, Joe’s wife, and uses the phone to call Vivian. Vivian answers and tells Grant that she’s feeding children. Grant asks to see her; Vivian replies that she’ll try to get Dora, since she can’t leave “the children” alone. Grant admits to Thelma that he’s in town to see Vivian, and thinks to himself that Thelma and Joe are good people, who don’t mind when he drinks and eats on credit.
It’s important that Vivian refuses to see Grant when he calls her, on the grounds that she’s taking care of her children. As much as Vivian loves Grant, she’s loyal to other people, and refuses to turn her back on them. We also get a better sense of the black community in Louisiana: for all the racism and poverty that blacks have to put up with, there are cheerier places like the Rainbow Club, as well.
Themes
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Vivian Baptiste enters the Rainbow Club. She is tall, well-dressed, and very beautiful—and she knows it. Grant greets her with a kiss and says he loves her. Vivian asks why he had to see her; in response, Grant says that he feels drunk on his commitments to other people, and wants to move somewhere new with Vivian. Vivian reminds him that they’re both schoolteachers, and that she is still married, albeit separated from her husband.
Again, we sense that Vivian is kinder, more loving, and more generous than Grant is. Grant complains about his obligations to others, while we’ve already seen that Vivian has obligations of her own, of which she doesn’t complain. We also get more information about Grant and Vivian’s relationship: in a Catholic community, Vivian’s divorce would be a scandal.
Themes
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Grant and Vivian dance, slowly, and Grant tells Vivian that Jefferson has been sentenced to death, and that Emma wants him to visit Jefferson and teach him to be a man. He isn’t sure what he would say to Jefferson, he tells Vivian, and he’s uncertain that teaching his new student that he’s a man would accomplish anything. Vivian begins to cry, and tells Grant that she wants to help Jefferson, both for Vivian herself and for “us.” Grant agrees to help Jefferson, encouraged by Vivian’s assurances that she’ll be there for him whenever he needs her. They make weekend plans to see each other in Baton Rouge, where they have friends who let them stay at their place. Vivian and Grant finish their drinks and then leave the Rainbow Club.
Even in this early stage of the novel, Vivian encourages Grant to help Jefferson, using her relationship with Grant to encourage him. In a way, this is exactly what we’ve already seen Tante Lou do to convince him to talk to Henri Pichot: used her “history” with Grant to convince him to do something he doesn’t want to do at all. Vivian’s love and encouragement will be crucial to Grant during his dealings with Jefferson in the rest of the novel. It’s also worth noting that Grant and Vivian don’t go home together. They seem to be limiting their time with each other, recognizing that Vivian is still married to another man, and going through a divorce.
Themes
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