A Lesson Before Dying

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Jefferson Character Analysis

The defendant at the trial for the murder of Alcee Gropé, Jefferson is sentenced to death by electrocution. During the trial, his defense attorney argues that the jury should show Jefferson mercy because killing Jefferson would be like killing a hog. This drives Jefferson’s grandmother, Miss Emma Glenn, to want to find some way to help and teach Jefferson to face his death as a man rather than as a “hog,” both for his sake and for the sake of the black community. It’s for this reason that she goes to Grant for help. For the first half of the novel, Jefferson is a callow, despairing young man, and has internalized the idea that he is an animal who need not abide by the rules of human society. When Miss Emma visits him, he shows no signs of love or affection for her, causing her to become ill and deeply depressed. Through his interactions with Grant, however, Jefferson begins to behave in a more civilized fashion, thanking Jefferson for his gifts, being polite to his grandmother, and writing his thoughts in a journal that Jefferson buys for him. Ultimately, Grant’s attention and respect inspire Jefferson to behave courageously on the day of his execution, proving to himself, to Emma, to the black community, and to the racist whites who believe he’ll kill himself, that he is a man, not an animal. His bravery shows Grant that education can change a community, and provides a symbol of hope and virtue to his friends and family in the plantation community. Jefferson is a Christ-figure, dying for the greater good of his community and “living on” through the impact of his actions and memory.

Jefferson Quotes in A Lesson Before Dying

The A Lesson Before Dying quotes below are all either spoken by Jefferson or refer to Jefferson. 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 1 Quotes

Why, I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this.

Related Characters: The defense attorney (speaker), Jefferson
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Jefferson's defense attorney offers an incredibly cynical argument in a last-ditch effort to keep Jefferson from being sentenced to the electric chair for the crime of killing a shopkeeper. Basically, the attorney is saying: "He's guilty, but he's not even human, so it's not right to execute him for the crime he committed." In the end, the attorney's arguments have no effect on the result of the case: Jefferson is sentenced to death, setting in motion the events of the novel. As Gaines shows us later on, Jefferson is deeply traumatized by his own attorney's words: he comes to think of himself as a mere "hog," unworthy of any love or respect.

It is crucial for us to notice that Jefferson's own defense attorney, not his prosecutor, is the one who makes such a racist argument and has such a negative impact on Jefferson's self-esteem. This suggests an even bigger point: during this era, the institutions that are supposed to support all Americans, such as courts, schools, etc., actually wind up keeping Black Americans in an oppressed state and suppressing their dignity.

In general, this is the single most important quote in the novel; the one to which Grant and Jefferson will keep returning. Grant's project is to convince Jefferson that the attorney is wrong: i.e., Jefferson is more valuable than a hog, because he is a human being with dignity, self-respect, and responsibility. Furthermore, by establishing the depth of racism in Louisiana at this time, the quote reminds us of the deeply-ingrained prejudices that Grant and Jefferson are fighting against.

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Chapter 2 Quotes

“What can I do? It’s only a matter of weeks, a couple of months, maybe. What can I do that you haven’t done the past twenty-one years?”
“You the teacher,” she said.
“Yes, I’m the teacher,” I said. “And I teach what the white folks around here tell me to teach— reading, writing, and ’rithmetic. They never told me how to keep a black boy out of a liquor store.”

Related Characters: Grant Wiggins (speaker), Miss Emma Glenn (speaker), Jefferson
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote establishes the setup for the plot of Gaines's novel:  Emma is trying to convince Grant to teach Jefferson, recently sentenced to death, self-respect in the face of societal racism and dehumanization. At this point in the novel, Grant is pessimistic about his project: he doesn't think he can possibly bring Jefferson any kind of enlightenment or self-respect. In part he believes that it is impossible to impart such lessons in just a few weeks, but more profoundly Grant believes that he himself is unable to teach such lessons, or that such lessons can be taught at all.

Grant is sure that he'll have little success with Jefferson, because he doesn't really believe in the power of education to begin with: years of working in a poor black school have convinced him that none of his lessons really matter in the end, because none of these lessons address the root causes of the black community's pain and suffering. Instead of genuinely helping his students, Grant's work as a schoolteacher just reinforces his subservience to the racist white establishment in Louisiana. Even when Grant is teaching his students how to read and write (empowering them, one might think), he feels that he's just obeying "white folks," and may be preparing his students for a lifetime spent obeying "white folks," too.

Grant's cynicism here shows us that the arc of the novel is twofold: on one hand, Jefferson will have to learn to respect himself; on the other, Grant will have to learn that he can make a difference with his teaching—in other words, he'll have to learn some self-respect, too. 

Chapter 3 Quotes

Before I left for the university, my aunt sat me down at the table in our kitchen and said to me, “Me and Emma can make out all right without you coming through that back door ever again.” I had not come through that back door once since leaving for the university, ten years before. I had been teaching on the place going on six years, and I had not been in Pichot’s yard, let alone gone up the back stairs or through that back door.

Related Characters: Jefferson (speaker), Tante Lou, Miss Emma Glenn, Henri Pichot
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

As a young man, Grant had to work for Henri Pichot, a bigoted, unfriendly white man who treats all black people with condescending disrespect. Like so many African Americans of the era, Grant resents his employer’s racism, but has no choice but to continue working for him: his financial neediness is a prison. It’s for this reason that Grant’s aunt encourages and helps him to educate himself. As his aunt Tante Lou sees it, education is a way out for Grant; a way for Grant to support himself without sacrificing his dignity or suffering the humiliation of working for a man like Pichot.

It’s hard to deny that Tante Lou has a point: as a schoolteacher, Grant has more autonomy and dignity than he would as Pichot’s servant (although, as we see, he still has to be subservient to white superiors). But the irony of Grant’s situation is that he’s only able to become an educated man because of his family’s hard, humiliating work for Pichot: in other words, he’s only able to become semi-independent because his loved ones become especially dependent on Pichot.

Chapter 4 Quotes

“Suppose I was allowed to visit him, and suppose I reached him and made him realize that he was as much a man as any other man; then what? He’s still going to die. The next day, the next week, the next month. So what will I have accomplished? What will I have done? Why not let the hog die without knowing anything?”

Related Characters: Grant Wiggins (speaker), Jefferson
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

Grant is still reluctant to do what Miss Emma and Tante Lou are urging him to do: he doesn’t see the point in teaching Jefferson about the importance of self-respect and dignity, because Jefferson's going to die, anyway. As Grant sees it, it would be better to keep Jefferson “blissfully ignorant” until the day he dies: teaching Jefferson the importance of life, family, and friendship would only cause him additional pain, since, he’ll soon be unable to enjoy these pleasures in any form.

This is a revealing quote, because it suggests very strongly that Grant doesn’t really believe in God or an afterlife. As far as Lou and Emma are concerned, it’s vital to teach Jefferson some things about self-respect so that he can enter Heaven as a pure, righteous man. Grant seems not to share these assumptions, and partly for this reason he sees Jefferson’s education as a fool’s errand. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you’d have to believe in God to think that it's worthwhile to educate Jefferson: as Grant will later realize, it's worthwhile to teach Jefferson self-respect, even if there isn't a Heaven. After all, everyone is destined to die eventually, and so knowing the date of one's demise doesn't make it any less worthwhile to educate and improve oneself. Furthermore, Jefferson's dignity can act as an example for other depressed, suffering black men and women, and his courage can inspire others to behave courageously.

Chapter 6 Quotes

Edna turned back to me. “Grant, please tell Emma how sorry I am about Jefferson. I would do it myself, but I’m just too broken up over this matter. I ran into Madame Gropé just the other day; Lord, how sad she looks. Just dragging along. Poor old thing. I had to put my arms round her.” Edna drank from her glass.

Related Characters: Edna Guidry (speaker), Grant Wiggins , Jefferson
Related Symbols: Food and Meals
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Gaines gives us a window into the personality of Edna Guidry, one of the few white characters in the novel who shows sympathy for black people. Edna knows that Jefferson is going to be executed for his supposed crimes, and she seems to grasp at least some of the injustice in this: she recognizes that Jefferson’s death is going to affect the lives of other people, such as Miss Emma and Tante Lou. It’s surely not a coincidence that Edna, one of the only compassionate white characters in the novel, is also a woman: Gaines implies that Edna’s own position of subservience to white men makes her sympathetic to black men and women who are also subservient to white men.

And yet, in spite of Edna’s sympathy for Jefferson, she’s not nearly as compassionate as we might expect her to be: note that Emma is still drinking from her glass as she speaks to Grant, and that she’s supposedly too “broken up” to talk to Miss Emma herself. Put another way, Edna is concerned, but her concern also seems a bit like a performance to make herself feel like a good person. Her concern doesn't drive her to action; it's just a condescending concern. Perhaps it’s fair to say that Edna is a naturally kind and loving woman, who’s nonetheless partly blinded by the bigotry of her society. No matter how hard she tries, she can’t quite conceive of Jefferson as a full human being who’s deserving of her sympathy.

Chapter 17 Quotes

“I don’t know when I’m going to die, Jefferson. Maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, maybe today. That’s why I try to live as well as I can every day and not hurt people. Especially people who love me, people who have done so much for me, people who have sacrificed for me. I don’t want to hurt those people. I want to help those people as much as I can.”
“You can talk like that; you know you go’n walk out here in a hour. I bet you wouldn’t be talking like that if you knowed you was go’n stay in here.”
“In here or out of here, Jefferson, what does it benefit you to hurt someone who loves you, who has done so much for you?”

Related Characters: Grant Wiggins (speaker), Jefferson (speaker), Miss Emma Glenn
Page Number: 129
Explanation and Analysis:

In this moving scene, Grant discusses the prospect of death with Jefferson. Grant’s speech is simple, unadorned, and free of any mentions of Christ or an afterlife. Grant is trying to convince Jefferson that the two of them aren’t so different: even though Jefferson is going to die much sooner than Grant (probably), they’re both going to die soon (in the grand scheme of things). For this reason, Grant tries to argue, the two of them (and all human beings) have a responsibility to be kind and respectful to the people around them.

Grant is making one of the oldest arguments in Western thought: the argument that virtue is its own reward. For the time being, however, Jefferson refuses to believe this. He refuses to believe that humans have any “reason” to be good in the face of death, and even suggests that Grant himself wouldn’t be so moral if he too was about to die. It's revealing that Grant doesn't have a good response to Jefferson's challenge: at this point in the novel, Grant is conscious of not being a particularly moral person himself. Later, Grant will learn to embody the values he's trying to teach Jefferson, rather than merely listing these values.

Chapter 18 Quotes

“I’m not doing any good up there, Vivian,” I said. “Nothing’s changing.”
“Something is,” she said.

Related Characters: Grant Wiggins (speaker), Vivian Baptiste (speaker), Jefferson
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout Grant’s quest to teach Jefferson about dignity, he has the support of a group of strong, compassionate women, including Emma, Lou, and Vivian, his girlfriend. In this scene, Grant has come from a particularly challenging session with Jefferson: he’s tried to impress upon Jefferson the importance of being good, but Jefferson has refused to believe him. Grant is genuinely frustrated that Jefferson refuses to listen to his advice—and this is what Vivian is referring to when she says that “something” is changing. Although Vivian has never met Jefferson before, she can see that Grant’s attitude toward Jefferson is changing very quickly: while at first Grant was cynical and indifferent to his new pupil, he’s become genuinely interested in trying to help. Ironically, whether or not Grant is succeeding in teaching Jefferson a thing, the very fact that Grant is beginning to care about teaching means that he’s making some progress of his own: he’s becoming a more compassionate, caring person. Furthermore, the fact that Grant himself is becoming more compassionate might suggest that he really is going to sway Jefferson’s opinion: instead of just talking about virtuous behavior, Grant is modeling it. In short, Grant is becoming a better man and therefore a better moral teacher.

Chapter 21 Quotes

“We black men have failed to protect our women since the time of slavery. We stay here in the South and are broken, or we run away and leave them alone to look after the children and themselves. So each time a male child is born, they hope he will be the one to change this vicious circle—which he never does … What she wants is for him, Jefferson, and me to change everything that has been going on for three hundred years. She wants it to happen so in case she ever gets out of her bed again, she can go to that little church there in the quarter and say proudly, ‘You see, I told you—I told you he was a man.’

Related Characters: Grant Wiggins (speaker), Jefferson, Miss Emma Glenn
Page Number: 169
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Grant gives Jefferson an eloquent and disturbing account of the relationship between men and women in the black community. Because of the impoverishment and misery of this community, Grant explains, black men often face a tragic dilemma: they can either stay behind to take care of their children and their families, or they can “run away,” leaving their loved ones to fend for themselves. Some black men choose to leave their children uncared for, meaning that in the end their children sometimes grow up to become neglectful fathers themselves.

Because of this tragic cycle, many black women are left caring for their children without a father’s help—and sometimes caring for their nephews or grandsons as well, like Lou and Emma. Emma thinks that by convincing Grant to remain in Louisiana and help Jefferson, she can put an end to the cycle of neglect and abandonment in her community (much as Grant, as a schoolteacher, is trying to put an end to the cycle of ignorance and disenfranchisement). This shows that Emma, just like Grant, is trying to improve life in the black community. Moreover, Emma seems more optimistic than Grant: in spite of witnessing more “go-arounds” of the cycle than Grant, she continues to try to make life better.

Chapter 23 Quotes

“Last Friday,” I continued, “was the first time, the very first time, that Jefferson looked at me without hate, without accusing me of putting him in that cell. Last Friday was the first time he ever asked me a question or answered me without accusing me for his condition. I don’t know if you all know what I’m talking about. It seems you don’t. But I found a way to reach him for the first time. Now, he needs that radio, and he wants it.

Related Characters: Grant Wiggins (speaker), Jefferson
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

Grant has gone out of his way to improve Jefferson's quality of life in jail: he's purchased a radio for Jefferson, so that Jefferson can have some contact with the outside world during his lonely hours. Lou, Emma, and Ambrose think that Grant was wrong to have bought Jefferson the radio, since Jefferson has now been spending all his time listening to it, rather than talking to his relatives when they visit.

Grant's passionate defense of Jefferson and the radio is illuminating for a few reasons. First, by advocating for Jefferson's use of the radio, Grant is painting a picture of what it means to be a human being. Humans need some contact with the outside world—contact that the radio provides. But even more importantly, Grant argues that humans need possessions and luxuries if they're to feel completely normal. Jefferson has spent his entire life living in poverty, and there have been times when he's been forced to steal just to survive. This constant sense of not being able to afford food—let alone entertainment—is a huge part of Jefferson's feeling of subservience to the white community. By giving Jefferson a radio, then, Grant is "liberating" Grant from his feelings of dependency and poverty, and possibly some of his feelings of racial inferiority.

It's also important to realize how greatly Grant has changed his own attitude toward Jefferson. A few months ago, it would have been hard to imagine Grant arguing so forcefully for Jefferson, let alone buying him a radio. Over the course of his lessons, Grant has grown from a reluctant tutor to a passionate, inspirational teacher.

“Well, I guess I’ll be taking off,” I said. “Anything you want me to tell your nannan?” I had stood. Now he looked up at me. There was no hate in his face—but Lord, there was pain. I could see that he wanted to say something, but it was hard for him to do. I stood over him, waiting. “Tell—tell the chirren thank you for the pe-pecans,” he stammered. I caught myself grinning like a fool. I wanted to throw my arms around him and hug him. I wanted to hug the first person I came to. I felt like someone who had just found religion. I felt like crying with joy. I really did.

Related Characters: Grant Wiggins (speaker), Jefferson (speaker)
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:

This is one of the major turning points" in the novel. Grant has just had (what he believes to be) another futile lesson with Jefferson. He's brought his pupil a sack of pecans that his students at the schoolhouse have offered. Just as Grant is about to leave, Jefferson asks Grant to pass on his thanks to the children.

Why is this such an important moment for Grant and Jefferson? First, Grant can tell right away that Jefferson's behavior has changed. He's no longer being sullen or cynical: on the contrary, he's stammering and trying to speak carefully, suggesting that for once he's genuinely concerned with passing on the right message to other people.

The scene is also a key moment in Jefferson's development as a human being, because it shows that he's finally come to recognize the importance of respect, kindness, and politeness. Throughout Grant's lessons with Jefferson, Grant has tried to convince Jefferson that he owes it to his family and friends be a virtuous, respectful person; in other words, that Jefferson should return the love and respect other people give him. After weeks of receiving (and ignoring) gifts, letters, and care packages, Jefferson's gift from the schoolchildren finally sets him over the edge. He gives into his natural human instinct to return the schoolchildren's gift with a show of thanks. For Grant, Jefferson's gratitude is a miracle: it proves to Grant that his lessons haven't been in vain, and that his teaching can make a difference.

Chapter 24 Quotes

“Do you know what a hero is, Jefferson? A hero is someone who does something for other people. He does something that other men don’t and can’t do. He is different from other men. He is above other men. No matter who those other men are, the hero, no matter who he is, is above them.” I lowered my voice again until we had passed the table. “I could never be a hero. I teach, but I don’t like teaching. I teach because it is the only thing that an educated black man can do in the South today. I don’t like it; I hate it. I don’t even like living here. I want to run away. I want to live for myself and for my woman and for nobody else. That is not a hero. A hero does for others.”

Related Characters: Grant Wiggins (speaker), Jefferson
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

During a visit to Jefferson's cell, Grant paints a picture of the kind of man he wants Jefferson to become before being executed: a hero. The key part of Grant's definition of heroism is self-sacrifice: Grant believes that a hero must be a model to other people, "performing" generosity and integrity as an example to others. As we've seen, Grant—along with Tante Lou and Miss Emma—wants Jefferson to be a role model for the black community in Louisiana, and a symbol of the strength of this community. By being strong and "noble" during his execution, Jefferson can act as a beacon of hope for black people by proving that blacks are not weak, childish, or animalistic: on the contrary, they're strong, determined, and even heroic.

The explanation Grant gives of himself is just as important as the definition of heroism he offers to Jefferson. Grant is modest about his own abilities: he claims that he's too selfish and scattered to ever be a hero. He even tells Jefferson something he'd previously been unwilling to admit to anyone: he hates being a schoolteacher. While there's some truth in what Grant is saying (he's certainly had fantasies of running away from Louisiana for good), it's important to recognize that Grant is being modest. He claims that he's selfish, but Grant has become increasingly selfless and kindhearted as he spends more time with Jefferson. He willingly sacrifices his time for Jefferson, and even buys his pupil a radio. In the process of teaching Jefferson how to be a hero, Grant has become heroic himself. 

“Do you know what a myth is, Jefferson?” I asked him. “A myth is an old lie that people believe in. White people believe that they’re better than anyone else on earth—and that’s a myth. The last thing they ever want is to see a black man stand, and think, and show that common humanity that is in us all. It would destroy their myth. They would no longer have justification for having made us slaves and keeping us in the condition we are in. As long as none of us stand, they’re safe. They’re safe with me. They’re safe with Reverend Ambrose. I don’t want them to feel safe with you anymore.

Related Characters: Grant Wiggins (speaker), Jefferson
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:

During his visit to Jefferson's cell, Grant tells Jefferson that he must act as a role model and a beacon of hope for the black community in Louisiana. But in this section, Grant goes further and tells Jefferson that he has another job. By standing proudly for his execution, Jefferson will prove to the racist white society of Louisiana that blacks aren't animals or second-class citizens.

Grant's explanation suggests that white racism in the South is a constant process, during which executions are a reminder of the black community's subservience and inferiority. Jefferson's execution, Grant implies, is designed to prove to whites that blacks are weak, thereby preserving a myth of white superiority. As a result, Jefferson can challenge white racism simply by standing proudly and going to his death without displaying fear.

Grant's explanation of the "myth" effectively answers the question that Grant himself posed earlier in the novel: What's the point of educating Jefferson? As Grant now recognizes, educating and empowering Jefferson has tremendous value for the entire black community. As a strong, empowered man, Jefferson can act as a "warrior" against racism, proving that whites' assumptions about his race are vicious lies.

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.

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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Jefferson Character Timeline in A Lesson Before Dying

The timeline below shows where the character Jefferson appears in A Lesson Before Dying. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Racism Theme Icon
The prosecutor’s story of the crime is different. He says that the accused—whose name is Jefferson—went to the store with Brother and Bear with the intention of robbing and killing Gropé.... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
The defense attorney argues that Jefferson was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He wasn’t involved with Brother and... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
The jury—comprised of twelve white men—quickly reaches the verdict that Jefferson is guilty of robbery and murder in the first degree. The day is Friday. On... (full context)
Chapter 2
Education Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
...at each other, and silently they both recognize that the narrator knows what’s happened to Jefferson. (full context)
Education Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
...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,... (full context)
Chapter 3
Racism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
...meet the maid, Inez Lane, dressed in white. She tells them that she heard about Jefferson, and, when Emma asks to speak to Pichot, goes to call Pichot from the library.... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
...she asks Pichot for a favor: talk to the sheriff, so that Grant can visit Jefferson in the days leading up to his execution and convince Jefferson that he is a... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
...worked for Pichot for many years. Pichot urges Emma to forget her plans, worry about Jefferson’s soul, and let Reverend Ambrose visit Jefferson before he dies. Emma refuses, though she acknowledges... (full context)
Chapter 4
Education Theme Icon
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Chapter 5
Racism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...angrily tells his classroom that the children who play with bugs will end up like Jefferson: executed by electrocution in Bayonne. He goes on to tell the children that he’s been... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
...that Pichot wants to see him in the evening. He asks Farrell if it’s about Jefferson, and Farrell replies that he doesn’t know. As Farrell leaves, Grant sees in his eyes... (full context)
Chapter 6
Racism Theme Icon
...bet are, Inez replies that Rougon has bet that Grant won’t be able to prepare Jefferson to die, adding that Pichot hasn’t bet for or against Grant. (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
...greets Grant and inquires about Tante Lou. She tells Grant that she’s very sorry about Jefferson, and tells him that he can talk to the sheriff about visiting Jefferson after supper.... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
...knows he’s supposed to do. Guidry asks Grant to explain why he wants to see Jefferson, even though Grant can see that Pichot and his guests have already discussed this. Guidry... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Guidry asks Grant what he’d do if he were allowed to talk to Jefferson; Grant replies that he doesn’t know what he’d say, but that he’d try to help... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Grant asks logistical questions, and learns the following from Guidry: he can’t see Jefferson for the next few weeks so that Jefferson can get used to his jail cell;... (full context)
Chapter 7
Education Theme Icon
In the weeks before Grant begins visiting Jefferson in jail, two things happen at school: the superintendent makes an annual visit, and the... (full context)
Chapter 9
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
...time after receiving the first winter kindling, Grant takes Miss Emma to Bayonne—they are visiting Jefferson for the first time since he was sentenced. Tante Lou doesn’t go with them, but... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Grant and Emma arrive at the jailhouse where Jefferson is being held. It is a red brick building from the early 20th century, and... (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 Emma and Grant for food and... (full context)
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
Jefferson is quiet, and even when Emma strokes his hair he doesn’t speak. Emma shows him... (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 leaves the food with him, and asks Paul to... (full context)
Chapter 10
Education Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Grant’s next two visits to Jefferson’s cell with Emma establish a routine: Grant drives Emma to the jail; the guards search... (full context)
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...though she doesn’t specify why, and tells Grant that he’s going alone to talk to Jefferson. Lou brings Grant into the house to pick up the things he’s to bring to... (full context)
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...feed the entire jail. He tells Lou that he’s gone through great humiliation to teach Jefferson: waiting for Pichot to finish his dinner, being searched every time he enters the jail.... (full context)
Chapter 11
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...searching Grant. As this goes on, Guidry asks Grant if he thinks he can teach Jefferson anything; Grant replies that he’s unsure. Guidry warns Grant once again that he’ll shut down... (full context)
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Paul walks Grant to Jefferson’s jail cell; along the walk, Grant gives out small change to the prisoners, as usual.... (full context)
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Grant says he’s going to return to Emma and tell her that Jefferson liked the pralines she made him; he will not, however, tell her that Jefferson behaved... (full context)
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After an hour elapses, Paul lets Grant out of the cell. Grant asks Jefferson if there’s anything he should tell Emma, but Jefferson doesn’t answer. Paul asks how the... (full context)
Chapter 12
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...isn’t sure what to tell Emma about his visit. He could lie and say that Jefferson asked about Emma’s health, or that he is a model prisoner. He decides to go... (full context)
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Grant tells Vivian about visiting Jefferson, watching him behave like an animal, and having to see Emma later. Vivian is saddened... (full context)
Chapter 13
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...proceeds to church and Grant grades papers, he thinks back to Friday, when he visited Jefferson alone for the first time. Grant returned from Bayonne late in the evening, and found... (full context)
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Reverend Ambrose asks Grant what he thinks about Jefferson, deep in his heart. Grant is unsure how to answer the question. Ambrose says that... (full context)
Chapter 15
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...beginning a Christmas program with her students. Grant, by contrast, has been so distracted with Jefferson that he doesn’t know what his curriculum will be that month. Vivian asks Grant if... (full context)
Chapter 16
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 17
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The Friday of the week that Grant visits Miss Emma’s house, he goes to see Jefferson at the jailhouse. Before Friday, however, he becomes much less angry than he was on... (full context)
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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;... (full context)
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Paul leaves Grant with Jefferson. Grant offers Jefferson food, but Jefferson says he isn’t hungry; Grant leaves the food for... (full context)
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Grant and Jefferson continue to talk. Jefferson threatens to scream and insult Vivian if Grant stays in his... (full context)
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...Edna Guidry and asked for her help in convincing Guidry to put some chairs in Jefferson’s cell so that everyone could sit down at the same time. Later on, Grant finds... (full context)
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...wife’s request for chairs. He asks Frank and the deputy, named Clark, if they think Jefferson deserves chairs in his cell. They agree that Jefferson should be punished for his crimes,... (full context)
Chapter 18
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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... (full context)
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When Ambrose, Emma, and Lou next see Jefferson, they’re shown into the dayroom of the jail. Then, Paul goes to get Jefferson from... (full context)
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Grant goes to see Jefferson in the dayroom a few days after Jefferson sees Miss Emma. Grant brings Jefferson bread,... (full context)
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Grant tells Jefferson that he has a moral obligation to be good to his aunt. Jefferson counters that... (full context)
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After talking to Jefferson at the jail, Grant goes to the Rainbow Club and has a few beers. He... (full context)
Chapter 19
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...month. Grant has told the children that this year’s Christmas program will be dedicated to Jefferson; for this reason, many people who don’t usually attend the program go. Reverend Ambrose comes,... (full context)
Chapter 20
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...rushes into his classroom to tell him that the judge has set a date for Jefferson’s execution. Farrell doesn’t know the exact date himself, but he’s come to ask Grant, along... (full context)
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...has been scheduled for the second Friday after Easter. Guidry says that he has told Jefferson this news, but he’s concerned that Jefferson will become agitated in the future. He also... (full context)
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...sake of Miss Emma, but Grant insists that he can’t go to tell Emma that Jefferson is going to die on April 8. Ambrose points out that Grant would have the... (full context)
Chapter 21
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...Miss Emma is so emotional she’s almost unable to speak, but she tells Grant that Jefferson is in Reverend Ambrose and his hands—she hopes he and the Reverend can work together.... (full context)
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...want Grant to be a strong, loyal member of his community, much as Emma wants Jefferson to stand up to the white establishment like a man before he dies. (full context)
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...behind to fend for themselves, will ever be broken. Grant responds that that’s up to Jefferson. (full context)
Chapter 22
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...Grant to the cell, he tells Grant that he is the first person to visit Jefferson since the date of the execution has been set. (full context)
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In the cell, Grant greets Jefferson and offers him food, but Jefferson shakes his head and refuses to eat. Jefferson asks... (full context)
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Grant proposes bringing Jefferson a small radio, and Jefferson agrees, though he doesn’t show any joy at the thought... (full context)
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...Grant doesn’t go home. He resolves to borrow money from Vivian in order to buy Jefferson a radio. With this in mind, he goes to the Rainbow Club to wait for... (full context)
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...and the sheriff. He tells the sheriff that he has a radio to give to Jefferson; the sheriff says that he’ll allow the radio, but that in the future Grant has... (full context)
Chapter 23
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On Monday, Tante Lou, 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.... (full context)
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Paul informs Miss Emma that Jefferson refuses to go to the dayroom without his radio; Emma, Lou, and Ambrose decide that... (full context)
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Sheriff Guidry, who is sitting in his office in the jail, asks Miss Emma if Jefferson is giving them any trouble now that he has a radio. Miss Emma insists that... (full context)
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...Emma, and Ambrose visit Grant and tell him that he’s caused a problem by bringing Jefferson a radio. They explain what happened on their visit that day, and Reverend Ambrose tells... (full context)
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...He tells them that his previous visit to the jailhouse was the first time that Jefferson spoke to him without anger, and the first time that Jefferson didn’t consider himself a... (full context)
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The Wednesday after his conversation with Ambrose Grant visits Jefferson again. The previous day, he enlisted his schoolchildren to pick pecans for Jefferson, which he... (full context)
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In the jailhouse, Grant greets Jefferson and offers him the food and entertainment he’s brought. Jefferson remains silent, but Grant sees... (full context)
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Grant asks Jefferson about Lou, Emma, and Ambrose’s last visit. He asks Jefferson to promise that when they... (full context)
Chapter 24
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...waiting, though he doesn’t explain that he was late because he was buying things for Jefferson. He sees that Emma isn’t angry with him, and this satisfies him. (full context)
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In the dayroom, Jefferson doesn’t respond when Miss Emma shows him the food she’s brought, but he answers Grant... (full context)
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As the others eat and watch, Jefferson and Grant stand up and walk slowly around the dayroom, with Jefferson in shackles. Grant... (full context)
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As they pace around the dayroom, Grant tells Jefferson more about what he wants him to do. Whites believe in the myth of their... (full context)
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Grant sees that Jefferson has been crying softly as Grant has been speaking. Nevertheless, Grant tells Jefferson that he... (full context)
Chapter 25
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After visiting Jefferson, Ambrose, Lou, and Emma drive back to their homes, and Grant goes to the Rainbow... (full context)
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...his sex life with Vivian hasn’t been as good lately, since he is distracted by Jefferson. Nevertheless, he and Vivian know that things will improve later. As he sits at the... (full context)
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...As he thinks about all this, Grant realizes that the two mulattoes are talking about Jefferson’s execution. At first, he tells himself that he should let the men talk, rather than... (full context)
Chapter 26
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...want fighting in his bar. He explains to Vivian that the mulattoes were talking about Jefferson. When Vivian asks why Grant didn’t just walk away from them, Grant says that Jefferson... (full context)
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...As they sit down to eat, Grant begins to tell Vivian about his success with Jefferson at the jailhouse earlier that day. Before he can get far in his story, Vivian... (full context)
Chapter 27
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...they agree that they try to do their best. Then, Ambrose comes to the point: Jefferson is to be executed in less than three weeks, and his soul is not yet... (full context)
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...hand on Grant’s shoulder and calls him “boy,” which infuriates Grant. Ambrose tells Grant that Jefferson must be strong for Emma so that she can enjoy her few remaining years; to... (full context)
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Ambrose proposes that Grant tell Jefferson about heaven, even though he doesn’t believe it to be real. Grant refuses to tell... (full context)
Chapter 28
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Grant walks to Jefferson’s cell, carrying a bag of sweet potatoes. He greets Jefferson, and Jefferson tells him that... (full context)
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Grant tells Jefferson that he should talk to Reverend Ambrose. Jefferson replies that on his last visit, Ambrose... (full context)
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As Grant tells Jefferson about his beliefs, Jefferson gets up from his bed and walks to the other side... (full context)
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Jefferson stares out of the window of his cell. He says that the view is the... (full context)
Chapter 29
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The chapter consists entirely of entries from Jefferson’s diary. Jefferson begins by writing that he’s unsure what to write; he has never written... (full context)
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In the following entry, Jefferson describes a nightmare he had the previous night—he tried to write about it that night,... (full context)
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Jefferson goes on to describe his traumatic experiences hauling water in the fields as a child... (full context)
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The next entry in the diary is from a Monday, just a few days before Jefferson’s execution. Jefferson wants to see Miss Emma one more time before he’s executed. He has... (full context)
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The next entry describes a visit Jefferson receives from Sheriff Guidry, Henri Pichot, and “Mr. Morgan.” Pichot asks Jefferson how he’s doing;... (full context)
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In his next entry, Jefferson describes a visit Grant organized, so that most of the children in his classroom came... (full context)
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A few days later, the guards bring Jefferson to the dayroom to say goodbye to Miss Emma, who is very ill. When she... (full context)
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Jefferson uses his diary to apologize to Grant for insulting Vivian. He describes the visit Grant... (full context)
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Sheriff Guidry asks Jefferson what he wants for his last meal; Jefferson requests pork chops cooked by Miss Emma,... (full context)
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Sheriff Guidry walks to Jefferson’s cell as he sits writing. He asks Jefferson if he’s been a fair guard to... (full context)
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The final entries in Jefferson’s diary are scattered, as Jefferson’s mind darts around in his final hours of life He... (full context)
Chapter 30
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The next morning, Reverend Ambrose, who is to read Jefferson his last rights, wakes up and prays that God will give him the strength to... (full context)
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...Jinkins is a petty criminal who spends a month in jail during the time when Jefferson is to be executed. He cleans the sheriff’s office and the white people’s restrooms. He... (full context)
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...Oscar Guerin. The executioner’s name is Henry Vincent. Vincent tells Paul that he must shave Jefferson before the execution, so that there’s not a hair on his head, his wrists, or... (full context)
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...razor and pair of scissors to Murphy’s cell and tells him that he must shave Jefferson; Murphy is confused, but agrees, and Paul sends him to get a piece of soap... (full context)
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Murphy returns with the soap and the water; he goes to work shaving Jefferson’s head, cutting holes in his pants and shirt, and shaving his ankles and wrists. As... (full context)
Chapter 31
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...thinks about the time he spent there as a child playing handball. He wonders if Jefferson ever hit a homerun in handball; to hit one, strength isn’t enough—you need speed and... (full context)
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Grant wonders if God is with Jefferson. God is with Ambrose, he is certain, because Ambrose believes in God. Grant thinks that... (full context)
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...would be absurd if he believed in the same God as the men who sentenced Jefferson to death, or if he believed that God blesses America, or if he believed that... (full context)
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...stand up; then he runs back outside to speak to Paul. Paul tells him that Jefferson’s execution went as well as it could have gone. According to Paul—and, Paul insists, everyone... (full context)
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...excellent teacher, but Grant denies this—one must believe to be a teacher. Paul insists that Jefferson changed enormously because of Grant, but Grant suggests that it was God, or Jefferson himself,... (full context)
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...his friendship. He shakes hands with Grant and tells him to tell his students that Jefferson was the bravest man in the room where he died. Grant suggests that Paul tell... (full context)