A Lesson Before Dying

A Lesson Before Dying Chapter 15 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Immediately after Grant and Vivian make love in the previous chapter, they discuss their students. It is almost Christmas, and Vivian is 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 he has any idea, but doesn’t specify what she means; Grant replies that it’s up to the boss in Baton Rouge.
Grant began by not caring about Jefferson—indeed, not even attending his trial. Here, he shows the amount of time he’s invested in Jefferson, to the point where he doesn’t know what he’s going to teach his other students. While Grant was forced to talk to Jefferson initially, Gaines implies that he’s beginning to sincerely care about helping Jefferson, and that he views this act of teaching as more important than his duties as a teacher. The “boss” in Baton Rouge is the governor of Louisiana, who will decide on when Jefferson will be executed.
Themes
Education Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
As Grant and Vivian walk back to his house, Grant thinks about Vivian’s history. She married a dark-skinned classmate of hers at Xavier University in New Orleans, but didn’t tell her family about the wedding since she knew they wouldn’t approve. When her family members found out about, they were cold to her, even after she gave birth to two children. Even now that she and her husband are separated, Grant thinks, her relatives barely communicate with her.
Gaines alludes to the racism between dark and light-skinned blacks. Instead of accepting each other as equal victims of white racism, light-skinned blacks looked down up darker-skinned blacks, and vice-versa. It’s remarkable that Vivian’s parents’ racism to dark-skinned blacks is powerful enough to make them ignore their own grandchildren and captures how white racism towards blacks has caused blacks to internalize that racism against themselves.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
Grant and Vivian walk back to his house and see that his aunt and her friends are returning from church. Grant introduces Vivian to his aunt and Miss Eloise, and they go inside. Grant bickers with his aunt about making more coffee, and he mentions that Vivian is the woman he’s going to marry—Tante Lou doesn’t protest, but she begins to ask Vivian questions.
It’s a little uncertain what Tante Lou’s reaction to Vivian will be, especially coming off of Grant’s description of Vivian’s parents’ racism. Tante Lou doesn’t say anything outright offensive, but it’s clear that she has her misgivings about Vivian, a soon-to-be-divorced light-skinned black woman.
Themes
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 marrying Grant, who doesn’t go to church. Vivian replies that she and Grant will work it out, but that she’s prepared to leave her church. After Grant makes the coffee and Lou has some, Vivian says that she must be going, and Lou tells her that she’s a lady of quality, and that she mustn’t forget about God. Grant walks Vivian outside, and they cross paths with Gloria Hebert and a boy from the Washington family; they both greet Grant politely. Grant kisses Vivian goodbye, but she doesn’t kiss him back—jokingly, she says that she has too much quality to do such a thing.
Refreshingly, Tante Lou doesn’t say anything rude to Vivian, though she clearly disproves of Vivian, a Catholic, getting a divorce. Perhaps Tante Lou recognizes the influence that Vivian has on Grant; this is why she tells Vivian, not Grant himself, to remember God. It’s also significant that Gloria and Washington—the two students Dr. Morgan called out in the earlier chapter—are equally respectful to Grant. In part, this implies that Morgan’s facile division of Grant’s class into “good” and “bad” wasn’t accurate in the least; it also suggests that the people respect Grant for talking to Jefferson.
Themes
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
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