A Lesson Before Dying

A Lesson Before Dying Chapter 19 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It is the night of the annual Christmas program that Grant has been organizing all 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, and everyone wears good clothing, if not quite the best clothing they own.
Gaines reminds us that Grant isn’t one man struggling with Sheriff Guidry: there is a larger community behind him, whose other members are highly loyal and supportive of one another. This is also a good reminder that the entire community, not just Emma, Lou, and Ambrose, cares about Jefferson.
Themes
Education Theme Icon
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Grant has put together the Christmas play using materials donated by various members of the community, some of whom are no longer alive. Rita Lawrence, who donated one of the sheets for the curtain, brings her grandson, Bok, who has spent time in a mental institution. Also in attendance at the play are Julia Lavonia, who has two children in the program, Irene the student teacher’s family, Miss Emma and Miss Eloise, Inez, Farrell Jarreau, his mulatto wife, Ofelia, and a man named Henry Williams, with his family.
Gaines proceeds to show us what a community does for itself. Everybody has donated something to the Christmas play. Those who have more to give donate more, and even those who have almost nothing, such as Rita, donate a sheet. While there are things the black community can’t do because of the racist society that surrounds them, they can and do support each other. This scene, further, establishes how the entire community has a stake in Jefferson, caring about him and about how he faces the racist society that has put him and all of them in this position.
Themes
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
At seven o’clock, Grant announces the beginning of the program, and invites Reverend Ambrose to walk out onstage to say a prayer. Afterwards, the children sing songs, including “Silent Night,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “Jingle Bells.” Grant thinks that the reason the children sound so beautiful is the bad weather—with no time for going outside, they have stayed indoors to practice. After the songs, a girl recites “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” and the children put on a nativity play. After these events, Grant invites Reverend Ambrose back onto the stage, where he tells the audience that no amount of book learning can save a soul, and prays for all those locked up in prison cells.
Even when he’s listening to the beautiful sound of Christmas carols, Grant can’t help but feel cynical about them. The end of the Christmas play establishes a conflict between Ambrose and Grant: where Grant stresses the importance of book learning (although he doubts it himself), Ambrose celebrates spiritual learning, of the kind that only the Bible can teach. Yet there’s nothing disingenuous about Ambrose’s beliefs: he cares deeply about Jefferson, and wants him to find dignity.
Themes
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
After the show, Grant stands by himself, and Irene tells him that he looks unhappy. Though Grant denies this, 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, sent from Tante Lou. Grant eats the chicken, sitting near the Christmas tree he has had his class procure. He notices that underneath the tub of dirt that holds up the tree, there is only one present.
Again, Grant confronts the possibility that nothing ever changes in his community. While he has a point, he also seems somewhat impatient—change takes time, and it’s perhaps not realistic for Grant to imagine that rapid change—with Jefferson, or with the community as a whole—can happen in a short amount of time. And yet, preaching that “change takes time” can also be seen as a delaying tactic to avoid change entirely.
Themes
Education Theme Icon
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
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