A lesson before dying : chapter 28

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This chapter represents the last visit to the cell told by the narrator, although it is not the last visit he makes to Jefferson. The day of the execution is coming nearer and nearer as it is due to take place in a fortnight.
So this is the opportunity for us to check the results of Grant’s strategy and to see if he has been successful or not in saving Jefferson and making him”regain his dignity of a man before he dies.


The whole chapter consists in the visit, so it is a dialogue between the two main characters of the novel who are alone in the cell. A chronological study of the scene is not really relevant, and it may seem more interesting to focus on Jefferson’sstate of mind a few days before his execution, and how Grant tries to help him. Finally, we will more closely examine the role that Jefferson is expected to play by his community, and what he thinks about it.


GENERAL COMPREHENSION : MAIN FACTS-------------------------------------------------

When Grant next goes to visit Jefferson, he sees the notebook on the floor, next to the radio. He opens the notebook and finds that Jefferson has filled up three-quarters of the first page, though he clearly erased a great deal. He has written about dying, and about the difference between men and hogs. Grant asks him about Reverend Ambrose’slast visit. Jefferson says Ambrose told him to pray, but that he does not pray because he doesn’t know if heaven exists. Jefferson asks Grant if he prays and Grant replies honestly, saying he doesn’t because he doesn’t believe in anything. Grant says he feels lost. He tells Jefferson that he wants Jefferson to believe in something so that someday Grant can look to Jefferson as an example and startbelieving in something himself.



The scene takes place on a Thursday, on the eve of good Friday (page 221). So it means Jefferson has only a few days left before being executed :
“What I got left, Mr Wiggins - two weeks ?
I think it’s something like that – if nothing happens.” (page 224)
We immediatelynotice he is perfectly aware of that, as most of his questions to Grant concern heaven, or the pain of the execution. Moreover, he has started to write in his diary, and we realize he is terribly scared, he fears what is going to happen to him, as the description of his nightmares show:
“I dreamt it again last night. They were taking me… (page 220)
Of course, any human being would be terrorizedbefore such a destiny, but here we have the confirmation of something we already knew : however mentally-retarded he may be, Jefferson is a man, and not an animal, as he was described by his attorney at the beginning of the novel, because animals are not conscious that they are going to die. He himself continues to think about the way he has been insulted by white men, as he says :”If I ain’t nothingbut a hog, how come they just don’t knock me in the head like a hog ?” (page 220). So it means he has resented this insult from the beginning, and that may have motivated him in his fight against his depression of the first days : he may have wanted to prove whites that he had nothing to do with a hog, that they were wrong from the start. This also shows that whatever the ordeal he has gonethrough, however badly he may have been treated, he has kept his pride and his dignity. And that was what his nannan has always wanted.
Nevertheless, Jefferson remains extremely tormented. His soul has not achieved what the Reverend wanted it to achieve, that is to say, he won’t approach death in an appeased manner, without fear, because he still does not believe in an after life. Reverend Ambrose...