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A Lesson Before Dying

Ernest J. Gaines

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A Lesson Before Dying | Chapter 25 | Summary



Full of optimism and wanting to tell Vivian about his recent visit with Jefferson, Grant Wiggins goes to the Rainbow Club. He can't wait to let her know his sexual troubles will end since Jefferson has shown some improvement. The only thing he doesn't want to consider is "the envy [he] had seen in the minister's face," evidence of Reverend Mose Ambrose's belief they are struggling with one another for control of Jefferson's life.

He overhears the racist conversation of some mulatto bricklayers. Like many mulattos, these men, whom Grant has seen before, have taken up their trades "to keep from working in the field side by side with the niggers." But since they aren't accepted at white bars, they come to the colored bar "and bring their prejudiced attitude with them." He tries to stay calm when he realizes they are talking specifically about Jefferson, saying they'd like to execute him personally.

He decides to leave, but as he is walking out, one of the bricklayers snickers and Grant tells him to "shut up or get up." A fistfight ensues, and Joe Claiborne steps in to try to end it. Claiborne struggles with the fat bricklayer, while Grant and the tall one fight viciously. Grant knows the man's refusal to concede the fight is because of "his hatred of the black/white blood in him, and his plain frustration with life." Thelma Claiborne steps in with a broom. A well-placed blow knocks Grant down. He is sure he is going to die, but gets up, grabs a chair, and throws it at the mulatto. Claiborne is yelling for Vivian Baptiste and for his gun. Suddenly, Grant is knocked out cold. He comes to in Vivian's arms. She keeps telling him to stand up. "I can stand up ... Damn it, I can stand up," he says. "He can stand up ... See? He's standing up now," Vivian says.


For the first time, Grant Wiggins goes to the Rainbow Club and engages in happy reflection rather than brooding. Instead of petitioning Vivian Baptiste to help him flee his life, he now wants to celebrate his successes with her. Things feel, for the first time, like they are changing. Jefferson is perhaps the first student Grant ever felt he really reached. Grant does not reflect on this, but his success with Jefferson may have something to do with his approach. He displays tolerance and his own vulnerability to Jefferson, while he is hostile and demanding in the classroom.

But although Grant doesn't want to acknowledge it, there is a shadow over his joy, and it is the tension with Reverend Mose Ambrose. Miss Emma and Sheriff Guidry have both expressed the importance of Grant and the minister working together, but Reverend Ambrose's sense of Grant as a rival and of the radio as the embodiment of sin preclude the possibility.

The shadow deepens when the hate speech of the mulatto bricklayers becomes impossible to ignore. There is indeed no place unmarked by the stain of racism Grant can go—not the cane fields, not the "colored" bar where he is a regular. He intends to walk away rather than react, but his fighting instinct is triggered when one of the men snickers at him. Grant is sick of being mocked, scorned, and considered a pathetic object of amusement by the white people in his life, and he is not going to take the same treatment from a mulatto in a bar. He sees the fight as his way of "standing up" and challenging hateful, racist norms, and his and Vivian's insistence he is "standing" contains this double meaning. His choice of a chair as his weapon alludes to the electric chair, which weighs so heavily on his mind.

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