A Lesson Before Dying


Ernest Gaines

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A Lesson Before Dying: Chapter 25 Summary & Analysis

After visiting Jefferson, Ambrose, Lou, and 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: after pacing the dayroom, Grant and Jefferson sat back down and ate gumbo, making Miss Emma very proud. When the visitors left, Jefferson said goodbye to Emma, and took the notebook and pencil Grant gave him. Grant is secretly proud of the envy on Reverend Ambrose’s face, but he decides that he won’t tell Vivian about this.
While Grant has plenty to celebrate—he’s gotten Jefferson to behave like a man—he’s no saint. He secretly relishes the fact that Jefferson responded to him, not Ambrose. This is petty, and not worthy of the courageous man Grant is trying to make out of Jefferson. Grant is right to conceal this aspect of this thinking, then—even if he doesn’t always think the right thing, he recognizes when he’s done wrong.
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It is 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 know that things will improve later. As he sits at the club and drinks, he notices two mulatto bricklayers, and overhears them saying “niggers” and commenting that something should have been done a long time ago. Grant notes that he “didn’t make the connection at the time.”
We get another indication that Grant is invested in Jefferson: he’s neglected sex with Vivian (a big personal sacrifice, no doubt). It’s unusual that Grant doesn’t notice that the mulattoes are talking about Jefferson—we recognize this immediately. Perhaps it’s a sign that Grant is less cynical than he was at the start of the novel; he doesn’t immediately assume the worst of others.
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Grant thinks about the mulattoes he knows. Because they are half-white, they despise “niggers,” avoiding them at all costs, even when it means dropping out of school or taking different work that pays less. At the same time, mulattoes aren’t welcome among white people, meaning that they have to drink at Black clubs like Rainbow. As he thinks about all this, Grant realizes that the two mulattoes are talking about Jefferson’s execution. At first, he tells himself that he should let the men talk, rather than let them destroy his feeling of triumph with Jefferson. But after a few minutes of drinking, he is so angry that he stands up and tells the men to shut up. As they stand up, seemingly preparing to fight, Grant hits both of them.
Grant thinks about mulattoes and recognizes that they’re “in-between” people, neither welcome in white clubs nor friendly with dark-skinned Black people. The fact that Grant can recognize this suggests that he’s no longer in an in-between state himself: his respect for Jefferson, and his investment in teaching him, has given him a purpose, and rooted him in his community in a way he hadn’t been since going off to college. The fact that Grant is willing to fight for his beliefs again illustrates his passion for teaching and bettering Jefferson, though it also betrays a lack of self-control that stands at odds with the dignity that Miss Emma wants Jefferson to show. At the same time, the fact that the "mulattoes" people use racial slurs to describe Black people captures the perniciousness of racism, creating categories that even those who are harmed by it are trained to think in its terms.
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A fight breaks out between Grant and the two mulatto bricklayers. Joe Claiborne attempts to break up the fight, yelling that he doesn’t want any trouble in his building, but neither Grant nor the mulattoes pay attention to him. Joe tries the wrestle the larger of the two mulattoes, while Grant hits the taller one. Though Grant gains the upper hand, his opponent is so angry that he refuses to submit. The fight gets dirtier, and Grant throws a chair at the tall mulatto. As he does so, he hears Joe shouting, that he’s going to get his gun. Thelma Claiborne rushes into the bar 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. When he comes to, Vivian and Claiborne are standing over him. Vivian asks if he’s all right, but Claiborne only tells Grant to get out of his club. Grant nods, and Vivian leads him out.
It’s significant that the mulattoes are willing to fight and injure themselves further, rather than submit: their hatred for Black people is so great that they don’t mind that they’re hurting themselves. The fact that Grant is fighting against the mulattoes distances him from the cynicism, hatred, and in-between-ness they embody; he’s found a purpose in Jefferson. Claiborne’s behavior is meant to contrast with Grant’s: where Grant endangers himself by fighting with the mulattoes because he respects Jefferson, Claiborne is more concerned with maintaining order in his bar, which is to say, he’s more interested in himself than in other people. This reiterates how selfless Grant has become.
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