A lessonbefore dying

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  • Publié le : 17 octobre 2010
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Extract 6

Reverend Ambrose wants to talk to Grant about the importance of saving Jefferson’s soul. There are only three weeks left before the execution and he knows that Grant is the only one Jefferson will listen to. Grant says that he can’t prepare Jefferson for a “better world” after death because he doesn’t believe in it. Reverend Ambrose tells him that although he went to college, Grantis far from educated, he knows little about his own people and doesn’t even really know himself.

In this extract taken from chapter 27 Reverend Ambrose challenges Grant.

Here we see the gulf between the two men: Grant the educated but detached college graduate filled with doubt, and Reverend Ambrose the preacher who has little or no formal education, but who is passionate about his faith anddevoted to the community. Grant speaks in an unemotional way, his language is correct, whereas Reverend Ambrose uses emotional language and colloquial English.

Reverend Ambrose is overcome with anger. He is exasperated at Grant’s lack of concern for the fate of Jefferson’s soul, and his uncompromising attitude.

Grant (as narrator) says “He stared at me as if he could not make up his mindwhether to hit me or scream”

Reverend Ambrose is totally convinced that if he doesn’t get down on his knees and pray to God for forgiveness before he dies, Jefferson will go to hell. For him, it is like a struggle, a religious crusade, and Grant is obstructing him;

Throughout the novel, the two men have had differing attitudes about what is important for Jefferson. Grant wants Jefferson torealise his own value as a human-being and be able to die with dignity, defying the white man’s definition of him as a hog. Reverend Ambrose wants to save his soul. It is like a battle between the “head” and the “heart”.
There has been tension between the two men, and in his descriptions of the preacher, Grant has made him appear as a rather obtuse character, jealous of the bond that Grant hassucceeded in making with Jefferson. However, here we see that Reverend Ambrose is sincere and that he genuinely believes in his mission. He is far more involved and gives much more of himself to others than Grant has ever done.

Reverend Ambrose’s emotion almost overcomes him. Grant says “I could see the rage in his face, see his mouth trembling” He will not give up on what he believes and tellsGrant
“ I won’t let you send that boy’s soul to hell…I’ll fight you with all the strength I have left in this body, and I’ll win.”

He is totally determined and involved.

Grant, however, is still detached and unemotional. He says “You don’t have to fight me, Reverend (…)You can have him all to yourself. I don’t even have to go back up there, if that’s all you want.”

This leaves thereader perplexed. Is Grant really ready to « abandon » Jefferson? In previous chapters Grant has told him how he has come to need him “ to show him what to do with his life”, and yet he would let Jefferson go to the electric chair without even going back to se him? Or is Grant simply trying to provoke Reverend Ambrose?

Reverend Ambrose does not accept this. We can see that this is not a battle ofegos, he is not trying to gratify his own pride or sense of importance. His concern is for Jefferson, Miss Emma and Tante Lou.

He says « You going back (..)You owe her much as I owe her. And long as I can stand on my feet, I owe her and all the others every ounce of my being And you too. »
Reverend Ambrose’s view of his responsibility to others is one of total commitment there are no halfmeasures and he is selfless in his dedication to his people.

Again, there is a striking contrast between Grant and Reverend Ambrose: Grant says « I don’t owe anybody anything, Reverend. » The Reverend, enraged at Grant’s lack of respect and understanding, grabs him by the shoulder and says

« Don’t you turn your back on me, boy. »

Grant resents being called boy, but Reverend Ambrose tells...