A Lesson Before Dying By Ernest J. Gaines Summary and Analysis Chapter 19

Summary

Despite the cold, rainy weather, the people in the quarter have gathered at the plantation church/school for the annual Christmas program. Aware that this year's program is dedicated to Jefferson, many arrive early, and Grant notes that even those who have never before attended a Christmas or graduation program are present. Among the members of the congregation are Miss Rita Lawrence and her grandson, Bok; Farrell Jarreau and his wife, Ofelia; Miss Eloise Bouie; Miss Emma; and Tante Lou.

Following Rev. Ambrose's welcoming prayer, the program begins with several selections from the choir. Program highlights include Odessa Freeman's recitation of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," Albert Martin's essay "The Little Pine Tree," and a reenactment of the Nativity. After Rev. Ambrose's closing prayer, the people gather in the back of the church for refreshments and conversation. Instead of joining them, Grant sits on a chair inside the pulpit, where he eats alone and looks past the talking, laughing people to the little pine Christmas tree and the lone gift for Jefferson leaning against a tub.

Analysis

Note that even though it was Grant's idea to dedicate the program to Jefferson, he attributes everything — from the overwhelming attendance and the glorious children's singing — to the weather rather than to the people's concern over Jefferson. This chapter introduces the black community through its people and illustrates the importance of ritual and the people's need to be part of the community.

The relationship between Miss Rita Lawrence and her mentally retarded grandson, Bok, illustrates unselfish love, and Miss Rita's insistence on contributing something to the program demonstrates the human need to contribute to the community, to feel needed and worthwhile. The others don't have the heart to refuse her offer even though her dingy gray sheet embarrasses them.

Grant stands alone; his mind is on past Christmas programs and on Jefferson. Even though he thinks that this program is like all the rest, he realizes that it is very different. The play is part of the Christmas ritual that serves to strengthen the Christian faith by retelling the story of Jesus's birth. Even though Jefferson is not physically present, his presence is felt by others. Consequently, he is part of the community's celebration. Grant, however, has not yet reconciled himself to his community. He still stands alone, not yet accepting his responsibility to stand for and with his community.

We learn that the people are materially poor but spiritually rich. They are proud, hard-working people who love, support, and protect each other. Generous and willing to share what little they have with others, their simple needs and basic values include their families, their community, and their need for spiritual nourishment. They have family and relationship problems and are dealing with them as best as they can. Painfully aware of the violence and racism surrounding them, they have chosen not to allow the evil of the outside world to overshadow their joy of living.

Glossary

crockersacks bags made of coarse material, such as burlap.

crackling the browned, crisp rind of roast pork; the crisp part remaining after hog fat or poultry has been rendered.

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