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A Lesson Before Dying

Ernest J. Gaines

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A Lesson Before Dying | Chapter 26 | Summary



Back at her house Vivian Baptiste tells Grant Wiggins Joe Claiborne knocked him out with his gun because Grant wouldn't stop fighting. She doesn't accept Grant's apology as sincere. When she reprimands him for not just walking away, he asks, "Can Jefferson walk out of where he is?"

Vivian says Grant must stay at her house overnight, as the fight has left him in no condition to drive. She is upset because having him stay over jeopardizes her own situation: "All they can do is fire me. Maybe he'll take the children. But you weren't thinking about that," she says, when he chose to engage in violence rather than speaking his mind. As she prepares food, Grant tells her about his success at the jail, asking if she's proud. She doesn't answer him. He blesses the meal.

Vivian finally admits she is preoccupied with her husband's recent threat to withhold a divorce "unless he can see his children every weekend." Grant grows angry, realizing this is a move designed to keep him and Vivian from going out of town together, and he gets up to leave. He tells Vivian he needs her "to stand with" him in Jefferson's final weeks. After a long pause, she says she is not mad but disgusted. "One day I'll bring flowers to the graveyard," she remarks.

Grant scoffs, saying, "That's not you talking." Vivian responds, "Tell me ... Who am I? Who are you? Who are we?" She asks him to explain the love he claims to have for her. "In bed for a few moments is not enough," she says, because he doesn't show her "any consideration." Leaving, she says, is the easy way out. He curses her food and storms out to the porch, where he realizes "there was nothing outside this house that I cared for." He comes back in, kneels before her, and "burie[s his] face in her lap."


It seems just as the tension between Jefferson and Grant Wiggins has dissipated, the tension between Grant and other people is coming to a head. Vivian Baptiste is gentle and understanding with Grant when he talks about making bad decisions, like running away. Now he has made what she considers to be an awful decision, one that could have negative repercussions for her and her children. Her words, though calmly stated, cut him with their power and bald truth.

She knows his apology about the fight is as superficial as his expressions of love. Grant, who has stated nothing bothers him more than having trouble in bed with Vivian, conflates love and sex. She demands he examine and explain this belief, essentially challenging the one stable, comfortable part of his identity: his love for her. Love means sacrificing the fulfillment of one's impulses for the well-being of the beloved, and by not doing this, he has let her down.

Grant's reaction to her challenge—anger, cursing, threats to leave—betrays his immaturity, as does his inability to leave when he walks out the door. Scared of the darkness, he returns to Vivian and lays himself in her lap, like a scared child would.

Her remark about bringing flowers to the graveyard points to the cycle of violence Grant has stepped into. The powerful thing to do would have been to speak or walk away with dignity. Grant wants Jefferson to embody this dignity, but he himself cannot. During the fight, he displays the "aggravated" behavior of a caged animal the sheriff is concerned Jefferson will display. This situation has the effect of pushing the day's successes, which Grant was so excited to share with Vivian, into the background.

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