A Lesson Before Dying

A Lesson Before Dying Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Grant is standing in front of Miss Emma’s house following the events of the last chapter. There are two cars parked in front of the house, one of which belongs to Reverend Ambrose. Grant walks inside, where he sees Inez sitting with Miss Emma, along with Tante Lou and Ambrose. Grant sees Tante Lou, and can tell from her face that Reverend Ambrose has told her what he said after the two of them left Pichot’s house. She tells him that she left food for him at home, and then ignores him. Grant leaves the house after only ten minutes.
By himself, Grant isn’t brave enough to talk to Miss Emma. In this way, he reinforces Ambrose’s point: faith in God gives people the strength to do things they’re not brave enough to do by themselves. Lou’s anger with Grant is palpable, even if she doesn’t yell at him: Grant has failed to provide support for a woman who clearly needs it. It’s for this reason that Lou leaves Grant food instead of serving it to him hot.
Themes
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 she had to see him. Grant tells her that he was planning to come to her that night. Without being able to explain exactly why, Grant tells Vivian that he has to go back to Miss Emma’s, and that he wants Vivian to come with him. Vivian agrees to come, and they walk to Miss Emma’s.
Vivian’s appearance inspires Grant to return to Miss Emma’s house, and to be a better person. He can’t put this inspiration into words because it’s irrational: he loves Vivian, and wants to be a better person to please her. The women of the novel continue to have a moderating, improving effect on the men around them.
Themes
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 offers her coffee, though she continues to ignore Grant. Irene Cole, who is also at the house, greets Vivian politely but a little coldly. Grant walks into Miss Emma’s bedroom, where she is lying. 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. When he walks out of the bedroom, Grant sees that one of his students is present; the student asks him if Vivian is his girlfriend, and Grant says that she is.
It’s clear that Vivian’s presence in Miss Emma’s house is a source of strength and inspiration for Grant. He calms himself by introducing her to those who haven’t yet met her, like Irene, so that when he goes to see Emma, he’s able to listen to her and give her some comfort. It’s important that Emma wants Grant and Ambrose to work together: despite everything we’ve seen between them, the two men are headed for a reconciliation.
Themes
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Grant and Vivian decide to leave Miss Emma’s house and go to the Rainbow Club. Twenty minutes later, they’re sitting in the club, drinking. Vivian tells Grant that she thinks Irene is in love with him; Grant acknowledges that she probably is, but so is his aunt. Vivian, refusing to drop the matter, insists that Irene has a crush on him; Grant says that she might be right, but he only loves Vivian. He goes on to say that both Irene and his aunt want him to stay in their community instead of moving on. The reason that they want Grant to do so, he explains to Vivian, is historical: for centuries, black men have failed to stand up to white men, and black women are completely aware of this. Black women want their men to be strong and dedicated. Thus, Lou and Irene 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.
Grant’s comments on women should be taken with a grain of salt, but they’re worth considering. Because the black community in Americas has been impoverished for centuries, black men—with slightly more mobility and freedom than black women—often leave their communities and go elsewhere, much as Antoine does. Thus, the women who stay behind feel they have an obligation to preserve what remains of their communities. It’s for this reason that Tante Lou wants Grant to stay in Louisiana and go to church: she’s afraid that he’ll fly off and abandon the community. While Grant views women like Tante Lou as anchors or obligations and fantasizes about sudden change, black women like Emma and Lou provide something equally valuable: peace and stability that allows children to grow up and communities to survive.
Themes
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
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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 mother and father left, she raised Grant. Grant is the only man in Lou’s life; in much the same way, he is the only man of his kind—educated and articulate—in Irene’s. Vivian asks Grant if the “vicious circle,” whereby black men leave their families behind to fend for themselves, will ever be broken. Grant responds that that’s up to Jefferson.
Grant ends his description of women in Louisiana by linking everything back to Jefferson. This shows how far he’s come in the last few months: where before he didn’t think of Jefferson as anything but an irritation, he now recognizes that Jefferson is a potential symbol of the strength of the black community. If Jefferson acts like a hog, than all the efforts of women like Emma and Lou, who’ve tried to provide stability and support for black men, will be for nothing.
Themes
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon