A Lesson Before Dying

What is the function of this chapter?

Chapter 30

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In Chapter 30, Gaines departs from narrating the novel from Grant’s perspective. Instead, he describes, in third person, the experiences of various people from the quarter on the day of Jefferson’s execution. These characters do not appear elsewhere in the novel, and it is unclear how Grant would know what they were doing on the day of the execution. By focusing on characters outside of Grant and Jefferson’s inner circles, Gaines reveals the importance Jefferson has assumed as a public figure and as a hero to his former peers.

By refraining from directly describing Jefferson’s death, Gaines increases the drama and power of the moment while also implicating the reader in Grant’s cowardice. Grant expresses regret and shame that he was unable to walk with Jefferson to the electric chair, admitting that despite his pride, it turned out that Reverend Ambrose was actually stronger than him. By concealing the moment from the reader and instead depicting the reactions of the townspeople, Gaines places the reader in the same position as Grant, unable to achieve the closure that would come with directly “witnessing” the execution. This lack of closure reflects the experience for Jefferson’s family and friends, who will never fully heal, as well as the lack of closure for the real people that went through similar situations.