A Lesson Before Dying By Ernest J. Gaines Summary and Analysis Chapter 28

Summary

On his next visit with Jefferson, Grant persuades him to talk to Rev. Ambrose. They discuss prayer and dying. Jefferson offers Grant a sweet potato.

Analysis

This chapter is one of the most powerful in the book as Jefferson accepts his human condition and Grant has his eyes opened to his own need to affirm the dignity of all individuals and his own complicity in the attitudes that have held his people back.

In addition, we see three key "lessons" underlying this chapter: moral obligation, the value of education, and the role and responsibility of teachers.

Both Grant and Jefferson accept their moral obligations. Grant does what the reverend asked him to do, but he doesn't lie to Jefferson concerning his own beliefs. He tells him that he believes in God, but admits that he is not convinced of an afterlife and spiritual salvation. Jefferson recognizes his moral obligation to "take the cross" for the whole community and to thank his nannan by giving her hope of seeing him in heaven. Jefferson's offering Grant a sweet potato symbolizes Jefferson's realization that he is a human being with something to offer. He can "give back" to the community. He has learned his lesson: He is a man, not a hog. Jefferson no longer blames Grant for his situation. By offering Grant a sweet potato, he demonstrates his forgiveness and his affection for Grant. The sweet potato is all he has, but he's willing to share it because he realizes that Grant has helped him to regain his manhood.

Concerning the value of education, we must reconsider what makes up basic skills: Are they reading, writing, and arithmetic, or are they skills necessary to survive in a hostile environment, which may not enable one to advance in that environment? What good are basic skills if they don't translate into job skills and economic success? Students are generally told that they need to master their basic skills in order to get a good job. But what is the motivation for these students? If they realize that their years of education will ultimately be economically meaningless, how will they learn the intrinsic value of education? The chapter reconsiders issues that are threaded throughout this novel concerning knowledge (information) versus education (formal "book learning") and wisdom (intuitive knowledge and "common sense").

A teacher is not necessarily a professor or someone who provides formal "book learning." A teacher is anyone who shares knowledge and experience with another, someone who strives to help someone else enhance personal awareness. Jefferson is, in fact, teaching Grant, as Grant is teaching Jefferson. Their relationship illustrates that a person can make a difference by reaching out to just one individual — an approach expressed in the philosophy of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People: "Each one, teach one."

The chapter also reinforces the connection between Jefferson's role in the transformation of the black community and Christ's role in the salvation of all people, including the black community. Jefferson is scheduled to die on a Friday, recalling Good Friday. He recalls that Jesus "never said a mumbling word." This scene parallels Christ's agony in the garden. Jefferson realizes that he is being asked to take the cross: "Your cross, nannan's cross, my own cross. . . . You'all axe a lot, Mr. Wiggins. . . .Who ever car'd my cross?" Jefferson also challenges Grant for his complicity in the idea that Jefferson was somehow less than "youman." Grant hangs his head, presumably ashamed, and acknowledges his fault: "My eyes were closed before this moment, Jefferson. My eyes have been closed all my life. Yes, we all need you. Every last one of us."

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