A lesson before dying

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  • Publié le : 25 avril 2009
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In Chapter 9, the focus shifts from the plantation school to the county jail as Grant and Miss Emma, for the first time, are able to talk to the captive Jefferson. In Chapter 10, we find Grant and Miss Emma going through the by-now familiar ritual at the courthouse: The deputy searches Miss Emma’s basket of food and examines the contents of Grant’s pockets, then leads them past the other inmatesto Jefferson’s cell. As before, Jefferson is sullen and unresponsive, and Miss Emma leaves in tears, asking the deputy to distribute the leftover food among the other inmates. The next time Grant stops by to pick up Miss Emma, she insists that she is too sick to travel. Ignoring his protests, Tante Lou and Miss Emma persuade Grant to visit Jefferson alone; they then send him on his way with a bagthat — in Grant’s opinion — contains enough food to feed everyone at the jail. When Grant arrives for his first solo visit with Jefferson (Chapter 11), Sheriff Guidry is there to meet him instead of the chief deputy. After Grant’s brief conversation with the sheriff, Paul, the young deputy, escorts him to Jefferson’s cell. As Grant urges Jefferson to eat some of Miss Emma’s food, Jeffersoninitially ignores him. Then, as Grant watches in amazement, Jefferson gets down on his hands and knees, puts his head inside the bag of food, and proceeds to show him how a hog eats. Not wanting the sheriff to know that his visit has been unsuccessful, Grant decides to stay until the end of his allotted hour, half-heartedly attempting to engage Jefferson in conversation. Upon leaving, he tellsJefferson that he will tell Miss Emma how much he (Jefferson) enjoyed her food. As Paul escorts Grant back to the office, they talk briefly about Jefferson. Reluctant to tell Miss Emma about his visit, Grant stops by the Rainbow Club on his way home (Chapter 12). At the club, he finds Joe Claiborne and two old men discussing their current hero, Jackie Robinson. As he listens to their conversation andwatches the old men dramatize Jackie’s stealing bases and sliding into home plate, Grant recalls a time when their hero was Joe Louis. He also thinks about “the little Irishman” who introduced him to James Joyce’s short story “Ivy Day in the Committee Room.” After leaving the club, Grant stops by Vivian’s school to tell her about his visit with Jefferson. Commentary These four chapters focus onGrant’s first four visits with Jefferson at the county jail. In Chapters 9 and 10, Grant and Miss Emma make three trips to Bayonne to visit Jefferson. Chapters 11 and 12 focus on the events surrounding Grant’s first solo visit with Jefferson. One of the overriding images in Chapter 9 is the courthouse. Traditionally a symbol of justice and democracy, here it is a bastion of institutional racism. Asindicated by the statue of the Confederate soldier and the Confederate flag in front of the courthouse, the justice dispensed here does not apply to black Americans. With its separate but unequal facilities, the courthouse symbolizes the racist white power structure of the Jim Crow South. The scene between the white chief deputy and the young black prisoner illustrates the contempt of Southernracist whites toward Southern blacks. This attitude is further exemplified by Miss Emma’s initial encounter with the chief deputy. Note that Paul saves Miss Emma from further embarrassment and humiliation when she misinterprets the deputy’s curt, one-word response — “Quiet”—as an order instead of as a description of Jefferson’s behavior. By doing so, he steps outside his official role as a whiteauthority figure and demonstrates his compassion. As Grant and Miss Emma are led toward Jefferson’s cell, they pass by the cells of other young black inmates, who ask them for cigarettes and money. (Note that the youthfulness of the inmates, most of whom are between the ages of fifteen and nineteen, seems especially troublesome to Miss Emma, who refers to them as “children.”) Instead of hurrying...
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