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A Lesson Before Dying

Ernest J. Gaines

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A Lesson Before Dying | Chapter 22 | Summary



Grant Wiggins is the first to visit Jefferson since the execution date was announced. He can tell Paul Bonin is uncomfortable with searching him, while the other deputy takes it for granted "this was how things were supposed to be and how they would be." Paul offers to stay close by, since Jefferson's behavior might be unsafe, but Grant refuses.

Jefferson wonders if the day he goes to the chair will be as pretty as the current one. He says he "never got nothing [he] wanted in [his] whole life," and speaks with pleasure as he imagines the unprecedented satisfaction of his "last supper. A whole gallona ice cream."

Grant gives him the news from the quarter but Jefferson becomes fixated at the mention of Gable, a man he was supposed to hunt with on the day of the crime. Grant has an idea to bring Jefferson a radio, and Jefferson likes the idea. The conversation ends as Jefferson retreats into himself.

Grant goes to the Rainbow Club, and when he tells Claiborne about the radio for Jefferson, the people in the club supply the money Grant needs to buy it. He goes to Edwin's department store, where the white clerk is set on selling him the display radio. When Grant insists on a brand-new one, the clerk makes him wait fifteen minutes before returning with a new radio. Before ringing it up, she stops to talk to a white customer for ten minutes. Grant takes the radio to the jail. Sheriff Guidry chides him for asking the deputy's permission instead of his. He takes the radio and promises to give it to Jefferson.


Knowing when the execution will occur causes a positive shift in Jefferson. The opposite of what Paul Bonin feared happens, and Jefferson is less hostile rather than more. There is a sense of control in knowing when exactly the end is coming, which allows him to relax and turn his mind to smaller, more pleasant things.

Jefferson has even found a way to find something positive about the execution day. It will be the day he finally gets something he always wanted but never had enough of. The Christ imagery reappears when Jefferson speaks of his "last supper," but his frames of reference are decidedly vernacular, as he reiterates he will eat it with "a pot spoon." Seeing how Jefferson's spirit lightens at the anticipation of this pleasure, Grant realizes he might connect with Jefferson by offering him things he can enjoy. He chooses music, something he himself loves, and Jefferson responds.

The radio ends up being a gift from the community. The people at the Rainbow Club give what they can, with an empathy marked by an awareness of the unjustness of Jefferson's—and their own—situation.

The characters of Sheriff Guidry and Paul Bonin are developed in this chapter. Paul and Grant speak as friends, and Paul's offer to supervise the visit is out of friendly concern, not paternalistic control. Paul has empathy for Jefferson and imagines the date being announced might have made him very upset. In contrast, Sheriff Guidry's actions reveal he is a man who clings to his official authority and demands it be respected and acknowledged at all times. He consents to Jefferson having the radio, but only after seizing it and reasserting his authority in the institutional hierarchy as well as his authority, as a white man, over all people with skin darker than his.

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