A Lesson Before Dying By Ernest J. Gaines Summary and Analysis Chapter 27

Summary

It is Sunday, and Grant is in his room, grading papers and listening to the music coming from the church. As he works, he hears Tante Lou and her friends returning from church. Minutes later, Tante Lou knocks on his door and tells him that Rev. Ambrose wants to talk to him. Grant invites the reverend in, and the two men debate the merits of religion versus education, as Rev. Ambrose tries to convince Grant to help him save Jefferson's soul.

Analysis

As Grant and Rev. Ambrose debate the role of education, they reveal their conflicting views. For Grant, education means employment and an escape from the grinding poverty of his community. For Rev. Ambrose, education represents an opportunity to gain knowledge and entails a responsibility to use that knowledge to help others.

The men's opposing views on this subject are brought to a climax when Grant declares, "I went to college," and Rev. Ambrose counters with, "But what did you learn?" As far as the reverend is concerned, simply acquiring knowledge through "booklearning" does not make one an educated individual. And since Grant has made no effort to use his knowledge to enrich the lives of others, Rev. Ambrose refuses to acknowledge him as an educated man.

Grant's situation reflects the problem of many educated blacks who find that their formal education has separated them from their culture and community. Although Grant has a college degree, he lacks the intelligence (common sense) to deal effectively with everyday issues. In other words, he has been mis-educated. Consequently, instead of preparing him to teach his people, his education has taught him to look down on uneducated individuals such as Jefferson and Rev. Ambrose. By asking Grant, "What did you learn?" Rev. Ambrose voices his contempt for an educational system that fails to provide black Americans with an education that will enable them to function as educated citizens and assume leadership roles in their community. His position echoes that of historian Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950), who argued that America's education system is designed to enslave the minds of blacks and to perpetuate the myth of black inferiority. As he contends in his groundbreaking book, The Mis-Education of the Negro, "Taught the same economics, history, philosophy, literature, and religion which have established the present code of morals, the Negro's mind has been brought under the control of his oppressor. The problem of holding the Negro down, therefore, is easily solved. When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. . . . The Negro thus educated is a hopelessliability to the race. The difficulty is that the 'educated' Negro is compelled to live and move among his own people whom he has been taught to despise."

Note that Woodson's and Rev. Ambrose's view of education differs radically from the view espoused by Jefferson's defense attorney in Chapter 1. Recall that the attorney denounces Jefferson as uncivilized and uneducated because he is not familiar with the works of Byron, Shelley, and Keats. As a college graduate, Grant is (we can assume) familiar with these authors, yet, from a practical and humanistic perspective, he is still uneducated.

Also significant is Rev. Ambrose's candid statement that he has no qualms about lying to protect others' feelings, which presumes that he is responding to a "higher" or "deeper" truth. Given society's indoctrination concerning the sacred value of absolute truth, we can surmise that the reverend's revelation shocks Grant. (Consider, for example, the biblical adage that "the truth shall set you free" or Keats' assertion in "Ode to a Grecian Urn," that "truth is beauty.") But we can also conjecture that because of the reverend's comment, Grant is able, for the first time, to see Rev. Ambrose as a man and as a fallible human being.

Glossary

You think a man can't kneel and stand? Rev. Ambrose's question takes on added significance if we recall Miss Emma's remark to Henri Pichot in Chapter 3: "I'll be on my knees next time you see me, Mr. Henri." Sustained by her faith, her courage, and her fierce love for Jefferson, Miss Emma is able to "kneel and stand." Grant has yet to learn this lesson: There is dignity and value in service and humility when there is dignity and value in the person who exhibits them and the cause that calls them forth.

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