A Lesson Before Dying

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A white deputy sheriff at the jail where Jefferson is held, and the only guard who treats Jefferson and Grant with respect. Paul shows many signs that he wants Grant to succeed in inspiring Jefferson to be brave. He is present when Jefferson is executed at the end of the novel, and he tells Grant that Jefferson was the bravest man in the room. He also shakes Grant hand. (In line with the Christian symbolism of the book, Paul’s name may allude to St. Paul, the loyal servant of Jesus Christ who spread the message of Christianity after Christ’s death. Paul, too, spreads the word of Jefferson’s bravery in death at the end of the novel.)

Deputy Paul Bonin Quotes in A Lesson Before Dying

The A Lesson Before Dying quotes below are all either spoken by Deputy Paul Bonin or refer to Deputy Paul Bonin. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racism Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of A Lesson Before Dying published in 1994.
Chapter 30 Quotes

Jefferson continued to look at Paul, a long, deep look, and the deputy felt that there was something else he wanted to say. Murphy and the other deputy were still waiting. “Well,” Paul said, and started to walk away. “Paul?” Jefferson said quietly. And his eyes were speaking, even more than his mouth. The deputy looked back at him. Murphy and Claude did too. “You go’n be there, Paul?” Jefferson asked, his eyes asked. Paul nodded. “Yes, Jefferson. I’ll be there.”

Related Characters: Jefferson (speaker), Deputy Paul Bonin (speaker), Claude Guerin, Murphy
Page Number: 248-49
Explanation and Analysis:

With only a few hours left before his execution, Jefferson prepares himself by asking Paul, the kind, white prison guard, if he'll be present for Jefferson's death. Jefferson's behavior in this scene of the novel illustrates just how far he's come since being sentenced to death. Although Jefferson's question, by itself, could be interpreted as frightened (he's scared of dying, and wants the support of a friend, Paul), Jefferson doesn't betray any outward signs of cowardice; on the contrary, he is calm and quiet. Based on how Murphy and Claude (who'd previously been rude to Jefferson) treat Jefferson in this scene, it's plain that Jefferson projects an image of pride and strength. Murphy and Claude are described as looking deep into Jefferson's eyes, suggesting that, in spite of their racist attitudes, they're viewing Jefferson as a human being for the first time. Murphy and Claude's behavior suggests that Grant's point about "myths" is true: by teaching Jefferson to be brave, Grant is fighting the dehumanizing effects of racism.

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Chapter 31 Quotes

“I don’t know what you’re going to say when you go back in there. But tell them he was the bravest man in that room today. I’m a witness, Grant Wiggins. Tell them so.”

Related Characters: Deputy Paul Bonin (speaker), Grant Wiggins , Jefferson
Page Number: 260
Explanation and Analysis:

After Jefferson's execution, Paul goes to Grant to tell him about the event. The fact that Jefferson was proud and brave throughout the ordeal proves that Grant has succeeded as a teacher. Grant has not only taught but embodied bravery and self-respect, thereby giving Jefferson the dignity he needed to "stand tall," acting as a hero and a symbol for the black community.

In this scene, Paul's behavior takes on religious overtones. Paul—one of the few white characters in the novel who's portrayed positively—has always treated Jefferson with respect and even friendliness. But after Jefferson's execution, Paul will play the part of a messenger: first witnessing Jefferson's death, then spreading the news of Jefferson's strength and courage across town. In this sense, Jefferson comes to resemble Jesus Christ, and Paul comes to resemble his own Biblical namesake, who spread word of Christ's strength and divinity across the world. In this way, the novel ends on an optimistic note. Grant wanted Jefferson to act as an example of African-Americans' courage and humanity: Jefferson was supposed to be a warrior, fighting racist whites' assumptions about blacks. Now that Jefferson has died with dignity, Gaines implies, it becomes Paul's duty to spread word of Jefferson's heroism through his own white community. With Paul's help, Jefferson will continue to fight racism even after he's dead.

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Deputy Paul Bonin Character Timeline in A Lesson Before Dying

The timeline below shows where the character Deputy Paul Bonin appears in A Lesson Before Dying. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 9
Racism Theme Icon
...bathrooms downstairs, which are disgusting; whites use the cleaner indoor bathrooms. A young deputy named Paul tells Emma that Jefferson has been very quiet lately. The other deputy goes through the... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Paul leads Emma and Grant to Jefferson’s cell. As they walk there, the other prisoners ask... (full context)
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Paul returns and opens the cell door. Emma tells Jefferson that they’ll be back soon. She... (full context)
Chapter 11
Racism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
...the jailhouse, where Sheriff Guidry sits behind a desk. When Guidry sees Grant, he calls Paul, and Paul goes through the usual process of searching Grant. As this goes on, Guidry... (full context)
Education Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Paul walks Grant to Jefferson’s jail cell; along the walk, Grant gives out small change to... (full context)
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
After an hour elapses, Paul lets Grant out of the cell. Grant asks Jefferson if there’s anything he should tell... (full context)
Chapter 17
Education Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
On Friday, Grant goes through the usual search process before he enters Jefferson’s cell. As Paul walks him past the prisoners, Grant asks him how Jefferson is doing; Paul replies that... (full context)
Education Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
Paul leaves Grant with Jefferson. Grant offers Jefferson food, but Jefferson says he isn’t hungry; Grant... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
Paul leads Grant out of the jail cell. In the front office, Grant notices the sheriff... (full context)
Chapter 18
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 20
Racism Theme Icon
...before or after Easter; Lent was not a possibility. Afterwards, Grant notes, he learned from Paul that the governor originally wanted the execution to occur before Ash Wednesday, but there was... (full context)
Chapter 22
Racism Theme Icon
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Grant has arrived at the jailhouse. Paul searches him, though they both know there is no reason for it. As Paul walks... (full context)
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...gone well, Grant stands in the cell and waits for the hour to elapse. When Paul comes to get him, he tells him that the visit was better than ever. Paul... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
Grant drives back to the jailhouse, where he finds Paul and the sheriff. He tells the sheriff that he has a radio to give to... (full context)
Chapter 23
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
...Miss Emma, and Reverend Ambrose go to the jailhouse to visit Jefferson. At the jailhouse, Paul searches all three visitors and then lets them into the dayroom. When Paul goes to... (full context)
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Paul informs Miss Emma that Jefferson refuses to go to the dayroom without his radio; Emma,... (full context)
Education Theme Icon
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
...so happy with this sign of interest that he grins and shakes Jefferson’s hand. When Paul asks Grant if everything is okay, he says that it is. (full context)
Chapter 24
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Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
At the jailhouse, Paul isn’t present; instead, the chief deputy escorts them to the dayroom without saying anything. Grant... (full context)
Chapter 29
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...get Jefferson anything, but Jefferson doesn’t feel that Clark is looking out for him. Only Paul treats Jefferson like a human being, Jefferson concludes. (full context)
Education Theme Icon
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
...writes that the sky looks very blue, and that he’ll pass his diary along to Paul before he’s taken to the electric chair. (full context)
Chapter 30
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Paul stands in the sheriff’s office in the jailhouse discussing the execution with Sheriff Guidry and... (full context)
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Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
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Paul carries a safety razor and pair of scissors to Murphy’s cell and tells him that... (full context)
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
...works, Jefferson sits on his bed, as if in a trance. When Murphy is finished, Paul motions for Claude and Murphy to leave the cell. As Paul locks the cell door,... (full context)
Chapter 31
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Education Theme Icon
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
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...to the church. When he is almost back, a car drives by. The driver is Paul. Paul emerges from the car and asks to speak to Grant. Grant quickly goes into... (full context)
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Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
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Paul tells Grant that Grant is an excellent teacher, but Grant denies this—one must believe to... (full context)
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Education Theme Icon
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
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Paul offers Grant his friendship. He shakes hands with Grant and tells him to tell his... (full context)