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A Lesson Before Dying

Ernest J. Gaines

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A Lesson Before Dying | Chapter Summaries

See Chapter Summaries Chart

Timeline of Events

  • Earlier

    Two men offer Jefferson a ride, and then provoke a gunfight, killing both men and a white storekeeper.

    Chapter 1
  • October 1947

    After his attorney insults him, Jefferson is convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

    Chapter 1
  • Immediately after

    Grant Wiggins learns Miss Emma and Tante Lou expect him to teach Jefferson to die with dignity.

    Chapter 2
  • The same night

    At the Rainbow Club, Vivian Baptiste convinces Grant Wiggins he must work with Jefferson.

    Chapter 4
  • The next evening

    At Henri Pichot's home, Sherriff Guidry gives Grant Wiggins permission to visit Jefferson in jail.

    Chapter 6
  • A few weeks later

    Grant Wiggins and Emma visit Jefferson, who is angry, quiet, and worried about when he will die.

    Chapter 9
  • A few weeks later

    Grant visits Jefferson, who eats off the floor like a hog. Grant plans to keep this from Miss Emma.

    Chapter 11
  • A few weeks later

    Grant speaks of moral obligation to a shackled Jefferson, who says he's a hog sick of waiting.

    Chapter 18
  • Late February

    The execution is set for the second Friday after Easter. Grant refuses to face Emma with the news.

    Chapter 20
  • The same night

    Grant tells Vivian his people want him as their hero, but only Jefferson can be the hero they need.

    Chapter 21
  • Friday, soon after

    Grant decides a radio would help Jefferson cope, and the community pitches in to buy one.

    Chapter 22
  • The following week

    Jefferson plays the radio constantly. Grant feels deep joy when Jefferson expresses gratitude.

    Chapter 23
  • Soon after

    Grant tells Jefferson he can be a hero by standing and revealing the lie of white supremacy.

    Chapter 24
  • Later that day

    Grant starts a vicious bar fight with a mulatto who was making racist slanders against Jefferson.

    Chapter 25
  • The same night

    Disgusted about the fight, Vivian says love is consideration, which Grant fails to show her.

    Chapter 26
  • Sunday, mid-March

    Reverend Mose Ambrose asks Grant to help him convince Jefferson to accept salvation.

    Chapter 27
  • Day before Good Friday

    Jefferson says he feels fully human and will do his best to carry everyone's cross.

    Chapter 28
  • Friday, April 8

    Jefferson is calm as they shave him for the chair. Its very public arrival galvanizes the town.

    Chapter 30
  • Later that day

    Paul Bonin tells of Jefferson's bravery, gives Grant the notebook, and asks for his friendship.

    Chapter 31

Chapter Summaries Chart

Chapter Summary
Chapter 1 Set in rural pre-civil rights era Louisiana, the plot of A Lesson Before Dying centers on the relationship between two b... Read More
Chapter 2 Grant Wiggins lives on the plantation in his aunt's (Tante Lou) house. The afternoon of Jefferson's trial, he comes home... Read More
Chapter 3 Resentfully, Grant Wiggins drives Miss Emma and Tante Lou to Henri Pichot's "large white and gray antebellum" house, par... Read More
Chapter 4 After leaving Henri Pichot's house, Grant Wiggins refuses his aunt's cooking and drives 13 miles to Bayonne. His girlfri... Read More
Chapter 5 The following day, Grant Wiggins's students, who range from age 6 to 14, pledge allegiance to the flag and recite their ... Read More
Chapter 6 After school Grant Wiggins goes to Henri Pichot's house. Inez lets him into the kitchen, crying. Sheriff Guidry will be ... Read More
Chapter 7 In preparation for superintendent Dr. Joseph Morgan's annual visit, Grant Wiggins drills his students in sitting and sta... Read More
Chapter 8 The school receives its first load of wood for the woodstove. Henry Lewis and Amos Thomas, who work with obvious enjoyme... Read More
Chapter 9 Grant Wiggins drives Miss Emma to Bayonne to visit Jefferson in jail. The courthouse resembles a European castle, and a ... Read More
Chapter 10 The narrative skips in time to the day Grant Wiggins is preparing to make his fourth visit with Miss Emma to see Jeffers... Read More
Chapter 11 At the courthouse, Sheriff Guidry asks Grant Wiggins dubiously, "Still think you can get something into that head of his... Read More
Chapter 12 Grant Wiggins goes to the Rainbow Club to think of a lie to tell Miss Emma about the visit he just had with Jefferson in... Read More
Chapter 13 The following Sunday Grant Wiggins struggles to concentrate on grading because the singing from the church is loud and d... Read More
Chapter 14 Grant Wiggins, as narrator, describes his room, which has photos of Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and Booker T. W... Read More
Chapter 15 Church is over, and Vivian Baptiste is hesitant to meet Tante Lou, whom she wants to like her. Her own family rejected h... Read More
Chapter 16 The next day at school Grant Wiggins and his students plan their Christmas program. He wants them to find a pine tree, n... Read More
Chapter 17 When Grant Wiggins goes to the courthouse on Friday, he decides to get a better sense of the deputy Paul Bonin by asking... Read More
Chapter 18 On Monday, Miss Emma, Reverend Mose Ambrose, and Tante Lou go to the prison and Emma sets the table in the dayroom. Jeff... Read More
Chapter 19 Despite rain, there is a big turnout at the school Christmas program, which is dedicated to Jefferson. The set is makesh... Read More
Chapter 20 In late February Farrell Jarreau summons Grant Wiggins from the classroom to Henri Pichot's house, saying "That boy ... ... Read More
Chapter 21 After walking for hours, Grant Wiggins arrives at Miss Emma's and finds her sick in bed. She is being attended to by Rev... Read More
Chapter 22 Grant Wiggins is the first to visit Jefferson since the execution date was announced. He can tell Paul Bonin is uncomfor... Read More
Chapter 23 The following week, Miss Emma, Tante Lou and Reverend Mose Ambrose visit Jefferson. They are forced to meet in the cell,... Read More
Chapter 24 Miss Emma wants Grant Wiggins to visit Jefferson with her, Tante Lou, and Reverend Mose Ambrose, and Grant reluctantly c... Read More
Chapter 25 Full of optimism and wanting to tell Vivian about his recent visit with Jefferson, Grant Wiggins goes to the Rainbow Clu... Read More
Chapter 26 Back at her house Vivian Baptiste tells Grant Wiggins Joe Claiborne knocked him out with his gun because Grant wouldn't ... Read More
Chapter 27 Less than three weeks before the execution, Reverend Mose Ambrose comes to Grant Wiggins and asks for his help in saving... Read More
Chapter 28 Grant Wiggins visits Jefferson the day before Good Friday. He reads in Jefferson's journal a description of his dream: "... Read More
Chapter 29 This chapter consists of Jefferson's diary, which he addresses to "Mr. Wiggins" and ends "sincerely jefferson." Having n... Read More
Chapter 30 The night before the execution, instead of staying with Miss Emma like many members of the community, Grant Wiggins goes... Read More
Chapter 31 The day of the execution, Grant Wiggins tells his students they will kneel beginning at noon and remain kneeling until h... Read More
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