A Lesson Before Dying Chapter 31

Instructor: Audrey Farley

Audrey is a doctoral student in English at University of Maryland.

This lesson presents a comprehensive summary and analysis of the final chapter of Ernest J. Gaines' novel, A Lesson Before Dying, which recounts the story of a man who is executed for a crime that he did not commit.

Overview of the Chapter

The final chapter of Ernest J. Gaines' 1993 novel, A Lesson Before Dying, depicts the main character's execution. Jefferson has been wrongfully convicted of another man's death, and he is sentenced to die in the electric chair.

Main Characters

This chapter focuses on Grant, a schoolteacher who has befriended Jefferson during his time in prison. Grant is devastated about Jefferson's upcoming execution. He is not a man of faith, and he has no God to turn to during his time of suffering. But, a white man named Paul offers him Jefferson's notebook, and this gift allows Grant to hope for change and repaired relations within the community.

Plot Summary

The chapter begins as Grant reflects that he has lost a lot of friends and loved ones over the years, many of them the victims of violence between white and black communities. The schoolteacher tries to suppress his tears for his friend. He considers calling Reverend Ambrose, who has also spent much time with Jefferson in the days leading up to his execution. Grant is an agnostic himself, but he respects the Reverend for his faith. He is especially impressed that the Reverend is able to turn to the 'white man's God' for guidance and strength. Grant speculates that he may be responsible for Jefferson's loss of faith. He has already asked Jefferson for forgiveness for this.

Shortly before noon, Grant convenes all of his students, asking them to kneel and pray. While they do this, Grant goes outside. He wonders why he is not with his friend, who is about to die, or why he is not praying like the others. Grant knows that he is not praying because he has rejected God and the white man's faith. He refuses to pray to the same God as the jurors who convicted his friend.

However, Grant realizes that many other Blacks--for instance, Tante Lou, Miss Emma, and the Reverend Ambrose--have found much solace through prayer. These characters claim to pray because it 'frees' them from struggle and strife. Grant understands this, since he knows what it feels like to be a slave to earthly things.

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