Lesson before dying
Chapter 31 is the last chapter of the novel and takes place on the day jefferson was due to be executed. Grant is at the school in the quarter. He has told all the children to go home early to eat, to come back to school, and to stay on their knees in the schoolroom until they hear the news that Jefferson has finally gone to the electric chair. Grant waits outside. He is full of doubts about both his relationship with Jefferson and his own worth: Page 250 “Why wasn’t I there (at the execution)? Why wasn’t I standing beside him? … Why wasn’t I back there with the children? Why wasn’t I down on my knees? Why?” The title of the novel is “A lesson before dying” therefore we have to ask ourselves if eventually this lesson has been taught and most important has been learned successfully. We may also wonder if this experience really changed anything in Grant “ the teacher” and if Grant is still the selfish, cynic disenchanted man that was painted at the beginning of the novel.
The novel ends with a paradox. Indeed, the whole story unfolds during Jim Crow era and deals with what it is to be black in this society; yet this is a white man who comes to break the news of Jefferson's execution to Grant and who has witnessed the “success” of Grant's lesson. What is important here are not the minutiae of the execution, but the manner of Jefferson’s death. Paul is a white deputy who has been one of Jefferson’s jailers. He is the only white man that Jefferson feels has treated him with real respect: “He’s the only one around here who knows how to talk like a human to people.” He is the only white man in the prison who has shown compassion and understanding for Jefferson's visitors.
This is Paul's first visit in the quarter probably because of segregation.” p 254 “ line 9 : “ He had never been in the quarter before”. As soon as Paul looks at him, Grant realizes how touched and shocked he has been by the execution. p 253 “ his eyes more intense than I had ever