A Lesson Before Dying

A Lesson Before Dying Chapter 28 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Grant walks to Jefferson’s cell, carrying a bag of sweet potatoes. He greets Jefferson, and Jefferson tells him that he’s doing all right. Grant shows Jefferson the food he’s brought, and notices that the pencil he gave Jefferson on his last visit has been worn down from frequent use. He asks to see Jefferson’s notebook, and Jefferson allows him to do so. In Jefferson’s notebook, Grant reads a painful entry about a dream Jefferson had, in which he was slaughtered like a hog. Jefferson writes that men walk on two legs while hogs walk on four hooves. Grant offers to have Jefferson’s pencil sharpened; Jefferson accepts the offer.
Grant doesn’t read much of Jefferson’s diary, but what little he reads suggests that Jefferson is working through terrifying nightmares about his execution. But maybe the very horror of the entry Grant reads proves that Jefferson is improving: it’s as if Jefferson is getting rid of all the anxiety and fear he feels by writing it down. Whether or not Grant envisioned Jefferson using his notebook for this purpose—a kind of catharsis—it seems to be the function for which Jefferson is using it.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
Grant tells Jefferson that he should talk to Reverend Ambrose. Jefferson replies that on his last visit, Ambrose told him to pray to God. He adds that he hasn’t prayed at all. Jefferson asks Grant if he thinks Jefferson will go to heaven; Grant says he doesn’t know, and admits he doesn’t pray himself. Grant tells Jefferson that he must give up material possessions and strive to make Miss Emma happy before he dies. He tells Jefferson that he believes in God, and that he believes that God makes people love one another. He also admits that he’s losing touch with his faith, and that he wants Jefferson to help him find it again.
Grant is put in an awkward position: he wants to inspire Jefferson and make him brave and proud for his execution, but he doesn’t believe in Heaven. In a sense, Grant’s dilemma is just another version of the problem he’s confronted throughout his sessions with Jefferson: why is good behavior its own reward? Ambrose might answer that good behavior is worthwhile because God rewards the virtuous in Heaven. Grant, since he denies the existence of Heaven, focuses on something different: the inherent value of bravery, courage, and dignity. Note also how Grant now reveals how much he is relying on Jefferson. The teacher-student dynamic has become more complicated, as they are both learning and benefitting from each other.
Themes
Education Theme Icon
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
As Grant tells Jefferson about his beliefs, Jefferson gets up from his bed and walks to the other side of the small cell. He tells Grant that while he’s human, he feels that it’s unfair that he’s being asked to bear a burden for his family and his community, considering that no one ever bore a burden for him—not even his own parents, who left him when he was a child. He questions the existence of the afterlife, and Grant doesn’t know what to say in response. Grant tells Jefferson that Jefferson is more of a man than he will ever be, and that his eyes had been closed until this point in his life. He says that he needs Jefferson to be strong, just as everyone else in the community needs him.
Jefferson admits that he’s human, showing how much progress he’s made with Grant—not too long ago, he was acting like a hog and throwing Miss Emma’s cooking on the ground. At the same time, his observations illustrate the frustration of behaving morally: “Why should I be good when no one has ever been good to me?” While Grant doesn’t have an explicit answer for Jefferson, he implies that it’s worthwhile to be a moral person because other people depend on him. Jefferson doesn’t owe it to himself to be brave, then; he owes it to Emma, Lou, Grant, and dozens of other people in the plantation community.
Themes
Education Theme Icon
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
Jefferson stares out of the window of his cell. He says that the view is the prettiest he’s ever seen. He asks Grant what his death will feel like, and Grant replies that it will be quick—he has read about electrocution before. After hearing this, Jefferson sits back on his bed and offers Grant a sweet potato from the bag Grant has brought. Grant accepts.
Jefferson’s comments about the view seem to symbolize his changing perception of right and wrong. As a free man, Jefferson showed no signs of understanding morality; now, with only a few more days of life left to him, he’s come to understand the value of moral behavior. It’s also a deft trick on Gaines’s part that Jefferson offers Grant a potato, not the other way around. Throughout the book, Grant has offered Jefferson advice—now, Jefferson has become the teacher and the moral exemplar, and Grant is the student. The flip in who offers food to the other represents that shift.
Themes
Education Theme Icon
Religion, Cynicism, and Hope Theme Icon
Heroism and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Roots, Connections, and Morality Theme Icon
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