A Lesson Before Dying

A Lesson Before Dying Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Grant returns to Pichot’s house, entering through the back door once again. Inez greets him and Grant sees that she has been crying. She tells him that Louis Rougon has made a lavish bet—a case of whiskey—with Pichot. When Grant asks what the terms of the bet are, Inez replies that Rougon has bet that Grant won’t be able to prepare Jefferson to die, adding that Pichot hasn’t bet for or against Grant.
It’s especially poignant that Inez is weeping in Pichot’s house: in other words, Inez has to watch as Pichot drinks and entertains his guests. While we’re not yet sure of the terms of the bet Pichot makes (and won’t be sure of them until the end of the book), it’s clear that Pichot is a cruel man. He’s obviously playing games based on Jefferson’s life. This makes Inez—and, presumably, Grant himself—more eager to teach Jefferson to be a man.
Themes
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Inez goes to fetch Pichot, and Grant stands in the hall thinking about his afternoon. He returned from school to find Emma and Lou shelling pecans. He told them he was going to Pichot’s house, and neither woman volunteered to go with him, though Lou said that she’d hold his hand if Grant wanted her to do so. Emma repeated that she didn’t want Grant doing anything he didn’t want to do.
After visiting Pichot with Lou and Emma, Grant is forced to go to Pichot’s house by himself. It’s interesting that Lou gets Grant to go by himself by ridiculing his manhood, offering to “hold his hand.” Black women in this novel wield great power, and they do so by skillfully manipulating men’s sense of pride.
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Grant waits an hour in the hall while Inez goes to get Pichot. At six o’clock, Edna Guidry, a woman in her early fifties and the sheriff’s wife, greets Grant and inquires about Tante Lou. She tells Grant that she’s very sorry about Jefferson, and tells him that he can talk to the sheriff about visiting Jefferson after supper. Edna offers to help Inez with cooking, and when Inez says there’s nothing she needs help with, Edna pours herself a drink. She offers Grant food, but Grant refuses, even though he’s hungry—he’ll never eat at Pichot’s kitchen table again. Inez whispers to Grant that Pichot and the sheriff are talking about Jefferson as they eat—the sheriff says that nobody can change Jefferson into a man. She offers Grant food and coffee, but he refuses.
Edna Guidry is the first white person in the novel who shows any sympathy to the black community after Jefferson is sentenced to death. Yet even Edna only cares about blacks so much—like Pichot, she eats food and drinks as she talks to Grant, as if she isn’t really thinking about Jefferson’s execution much at all. Perhaps because he recognizes this, Grant refuses to eat anything when Edna offers him food: his sense of pride is so great that he honors the promise he made to himself to never eat in the kitchen again.
Themes
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Women and Femininity Theme Icon
At seven thirty, Grant has been waiting for two and a half hours. Pichot, Rougon, Sam Guidry, and a fat man Grant doesn’t recognize walk into the hall. Grant decides that he’ll speak intelligently instead of acting like “a nigger.” Thus, when Guidry, who is the sheriff, greets him by asking how long he’s been waiting, he tells the truth, instead of saying “not long” and grinning, as he knows he’s supposed to do. Guidry asks Grant to explain why he wants to see Jefferson, even though Grant can see that Pichot and his guests have already discussed this. Guidry seems amused, and Grant realizes that Rougon and the fat man are betting against him. Grant speaks proper English, and thinks that Guidry will accuse him of being “too smart.” He half wants Guidry to do so, since this will mean that Grant doesn’t have to see Jefferson.
Here, we see what differentiates Grant from the other black people in his community. Where other blacks speak with poor grammar and, perhaps intentionally, try to sound less educated or even less intelligent than they are around white people, Grant does nothing of the kind. He lets Guidry know that he’s had to wait for hours, and recklessly answers all of Guidry’s questions without saying “sir.” It’s worth noting, though, that Grant’s bravery is based on a kind of selfishness: he’s behaving this way in part because he’s hoping that Guidry will become angry and refuse to let Grant speak to Jefferson.
Themes
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Guidry asks Grant what he’d do if he were allowed to talk to Jefferson; Grant replies that he doesn’t know what he’d say, but that he’d try to help Jefferson die with dignity. He adds that he would speak to Jefferson as a favor to Emma, and that he wishes he weren’t involved in the affair at all. Guidry tells Grant that Edna, his wife, wants him to let Grant talk to Jefferson. He tries to trap Grant by asking him if he or his wife is right; Grant replies that he doesn’t want to get involved in family disputes. This display of intelligence visibly irritates Guidry, and the fat man. Guidry tells Grant that he’s too smart for his own good, and that, while he’ll allow him to talk to Jefferson, he’ll call off the talks if Jefferson shows the slightest signs of aggravation.
Grant again refuses to curb his intelligence or eloquence when he’s around Guidry and the other white men; indeed, speaking eloquently is a weapon that Grant uses to attack Guidry without ever threatening him or insulting him. It’s clear that Edna has convinced Guidry to allow Jefferson to talk to Grant—women in the novel are generally more moral than the men. It’s also important to recognize that Guidry only allows Grant to visit the jail because he doesn’t think his visits matter at all: Jefferson’s going to die, meaning that nothing he does matters anymore.
Themes
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Grant asks logistical questions, and learns the following from Guidry: he can’t see Jefferson for the next few weeks so that Jefferson can get used to his jail cell; he can talk to Jefferson between ten and four every day; he can’t bring Jefferson anything sharp or hard in case he tries to hurt himself; Guidry doesn’t know when Jefferson will be electrocuted, other than soon. Guidry tells Grant that he’s wasting his time. Grant thanks him and leaves.
It’ll become important later on that Guidry tells Grant not to bring Jefferson anything sharp; for now, this reminds us that there’s a possibility that Jefferson will kill himself before he can be executed. Guidry thinks that Grant is wasting his time, and while Grant privately agrees with him, his dislike for Guidry encourages him to talk to Jefferson in order to prove Guidry wrong.
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