Throughout A Lesson Before Dying
, there are images that mention heat, warmth, and fire. The most obvious such image is that of the schoolhouse, which can only remain open during the coldest months of the year when everyone in the community donates firewood to power the church heater. In general, Gaines associates warmth and heat with optimism, hope, and inspiration: when Grant
is on the point of abandoning Jefferson
, he visits his girlfriend Vivian Baptiste
and feels the warmth of her body, inspiring him to remain where he is. Conversely, when Jefferson visits his old schoolmaster, Matthew Antoine
, he learns that Antoine has lost all the heat in his body—a process that parallels Antoine’s complete lack of optimism about the future of the schoolchildren and the black community. Hope, then, is the fuel that drives Grant’s community. The fact that Grant continues to arrange for the classroom to be heated suggests that he still has some hope for his children’s futures—perhaps they’ll be able to use their knowledge and education to improve their lives, and the lives of others.