A Lesson Before Dying

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Vivian Baptiste Character Analysis

Grant’s beautiful girlfriend, Vivian Baptiste, is a schoolteacher in Bayonne, the nearest town to Grant’s home. Vivian is also a mother, and has a husband, though they are in the process of getting divorced. She provides near-constant love and affection for Grant during the months he spends visiting Jefferson. There are many times when Grant is ready to give up and move away from his home—on these occasions, Vivian always encourages Grant to stay and continue helping Jefferson and teaching his students. Though Vivian and Grant argue and bicker throughout the novel, their love for each other is never in any doubt. At many points, Grant finishes a difficult session with Tante Lou or Jefferson and goes to the Rainbow Club in Bayonne, where Vivian is usually waiting to talk to him.

Vivian Baptiste Quotes in A Lesson Before Dying

The A Lesson Before Dying quotes below are all either spoken by Vivian Baptiste or refer to Vivian Baptiste. 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 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.

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Chapter 26 Quotes

I went to the front door and jerked it open, and there was the screen. And through the screen I could see outside into the darkness, and I didn’t want to go out there. There was nothing outside this house that I cared for. Not school, not home, not my aunt, not the quarter, not anything else in the world. I don’t know how long I stood there looking out into the darkness—a couple of minutes, I suppose —then I went back into the kitchen. I knelt down and buried my face in her lap ...

Related Characters: Grant Wiggins (speaker), Tante Lou, Vivian Baptiste
Page Number: 213
Explanation and Analysis:

Grant is furious to learn that Vivian's husband, from whom she's separated, won't agree to a divorce unless she lets him see their children on weekends. Technically, Grant has been having an affair with Vivian, and he's been looking forward to the time when he can spend time with his girlfriend without the fear of legal repercussions. The fact that Vivian will be locked in divorce proceedings for longer than she thought infuriates Grant, and he seems to be considering leaving Vivian, both tonight and possibly forever. In spite of Grant's anger, he's smart enough to realize that he has nowhere else to go: he doesn't feel any deep connection to his family, his community, or his job. Because of Grant's cynicism about his community, as well as his education, Vivian is the only person with whom he feels he can be himself.

Grant is torn between two options: remaining in Louisiana or abandoning his community for somewhere new. Grant's behavior in this scene suggests that he's finally reaching a decision. Although he continues to have his doubts about his church, his neighbors, and his family, Grant refuses to conform to the stereotypes of the absentee black male: he refuses to run away from his problems. Instead, Grant chooses to remain with the woman he loves. In this way, Grant finds a compromise: he continues to question his community without turning his back on it altogether.

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Vivian Baptiste Character Timeline in A Lesson Before Dying

The timeline below shows where the character Vivian Baptiste appears in A Lesson Before Dying. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
...that he won’t be able to concentrate on any of it. He needs to see Vivian. (full context)
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Vivian Baptiste enters the Rainbow Club. She is tall, well-dressed, and very beautiful—and she knows it.... (full context)
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... (full context)
Chapter 5
Education Theme Icon
The day after he visits Vivian, Grant is teaching his schoolchildren, who address him as “Mister Wiggins.” They begin by pledging... (full context)
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Grant remembers his night after seeing Vivian. He drove home to his house, and when he went to say goodnight to his... (full context)
Chapter 12
Education Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
...and leaves the bar, bidding farewell to Claiborne. He goes to the local school, where Vivian teaches, and walks inside. A teacher named Peggy greets Grant, and he says hello back... (full context)
Education Theme Icon
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Grant tells Vivian about visiting Jefferson, watching him behave like an animal, and having to see Emma later.... (full context)
Chapter 13
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
As Grant listens to singing from the church, Vivian arrives at his house, dressed beautifully in blue and maroon. Grant invites her in. (full context)
Chapter 14
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
Vivian explains that she finished her work and wanted to see him. He asks where her... (full context)
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
After having coffee and cake, Grant and Vivian go for a walk in the area around his home. This is the first time... (full context)
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
After making love, Grant and Vivian talk, half-seriously, about raising children in the plantation area. They’ll name their children Paul and... (full context)
Chapter 15
Education Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Immediately after Grant and Vivian make love in the previous chapter, they discuss their students. It is almost Christmas, and... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
As Grant and Vivian walk back to his house, Grant thinks about Vivian’s history. She married a dark-skinned classmate... (full context)
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Grant and Vivian walk back to his house and see that his aunt and her friends are returning... (full context)
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
As Grant makes more coffee for everyone, Tante Lou asks Vivian if she’s Catholic. Vivian replies that she is. Lou asks Vivian if she’s concerned about... (full context)
Chapter 17
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Grant and Jefferson continue to talk. Jefferson threatens to scream and insult Vivian if Grant stays in his cell. But Grant sees that Jefferson won’t scream—he wants Grant... (full context)
Chapter 18
Education Theme Icon
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 19
Education Theme Icon
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
...he is privately depressed about putting on the same show year after year, especially after Vivian has told him that things are changing. A Hebert girl gives him some fried chicken,... (full context)
Chapter 21
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
At home, Grant heats up food for himself, and is surprised to hear Vivian arrive outside. She tells him that she has heard the news, and that she knew... (full context)
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Grant walks into Miss Emma’s and introduces Vivian to those who haven’t already met her. Tante Lou is very polite to Vivian and... (full context)
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
Grant and Vivian decide to leave Miss Emma’s house and go to the Rainbow Club. Twenty minutes later,... (full context)
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
Grant continues to explain his theory of women to Vivian. Lou, he reveals, is his grandmother’s sister; she raised Grant’s own mother, and when his... (full context)
Chapter 22
Racism Theme Icon
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
After leaving the jailhouse, 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... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
...with Paul, who is smiling. Grant drives back to the Rainbow Club, where he hopes Vivian will come. (full context)
Chapter 25
Education Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
...Emma drive back to their homes, and Grant goes to the Rainbow Club to tell Vivian that he is making progress with Jefferson. He thinks about everything he has to celebrate:... (full context)
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
...mid-afternoon when Grant arrives at the Rainbow Club. He thinks that his sex life with Vivian hasn’t been as good lately, since he is distracted by Jefferson. Nevertheless, he and Vivian... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
...and tries to break up the fight, but Joe yells for her to go find Vivian right away. Grant feels a blow to the side of his head, and loses consciousness.... (full context)
Chapter 26
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
After Vivian leads Grant out of the Rainbow Club, she asks him what happened. Grant explains that... (full context)
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Because Grant is injured, Vivian insists that he stay with her that night. Grant objects, because Vivian’s husband could find... (full context)
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
Vivian takes Grant to her home, gives him a towel for his head, and fixes him... (full context)
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
Angry and frustrated that Vivian’s divorce will be difficult and lengthy, Grant prepares to leave Vivian’s house, not wanting to... (full context)
Chapter 29
Education Theme Icon
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
Jefferson uses his diary to apologize to Grant for insulting Vivian. He describes the visit Grant and Vivian make to see him after Miss Emma’s visit—he... (full context)
Chapter 30
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
...wants all witnesses to the execution to be present at the courthouse by eleven thirty. Vivian and Grant spend the night at the Rainbow Club—it’s both quieter and more full than... (full context)
Chapter 31
Education Theme Icon
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...and dismisses the children. Alone in the classroom, he thinks that he wants to telephone Vivian, but knows that there is no telephone nearby for him to use. Nevertheless, he will... (full context)
Education Theme Icon
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...work. Grant tells Paul that he’s unsure what he’ll do from now on—it depends on Vivian—and Paul tells Grant that he’s a lucky man. He gives Grant Jefferson’s notebook, which he... (full context)