Book One—Chapter Summaries
We go through his new experiences with Stephen: the two trains to Pietermaritzburg, then the mainline overnight train to Johannesburg. Those who share his compartment point out the sights to him as they approach the city: the mine dumps, the mines, the size and density of the city's buildings. Stephen is overawed. When they reach the station and the crowded streets, he is afraid and confused, and within a few minutes he has been conned by a young man who, pretending to buy him a bus ticket, pockets the pound that the innocent pastor gives him. He is then helped by another, kindly man, who offers to accompany him to the Mission House at Sophiatown, where Msimangu lives. (This pattern of a bad experience followed by a better one occurs frequently in the novel.) They make their way through the teeming city, by bus and then by foot. Msimangu, "a young tall man in clerical dress," welcomes Stephen warmly. Exhausted by his journey and his many new impressions, he is pleased for the time being to relax in Msimangu's company.
Stephen speaks at dinner with a group of priests. He talks of his home and of the way the traditional structures of African life are being broken down, and the others give him the Johannesburg end of the same story: a lack of social cohesion, and black crime, which frightens white citizens. Msimangu and Stephen then talk together. Msimangu tells him that Gertrude has become a prostitute and a shebeen queen. Stephen is deeply shocked. They will go tomorrow to see her. Stephen then brings out the story of Absalom; he feels all the more anxious about him after what he has just heard of the prevalence of crime. Msimangu says they will search for him together. They are both humble religious people, and wish to pray about these matters. Stephen then mentions his brother John. Msimangu knows him: he has given up the church and become a well-known politician. He then speaks about what in his view is happening in the country: the old structures are indeed breaking down; nothing can prevent that. But those whom it suited to break the structures, the white people, have made no attempt to build something in their place. Yet some white people care.
As Msimangu and Stephen make their way towards the run-down area of Claremont, where Gertrude lives, the former discusses some aspects of the racial and social situation in the country. Stephen goes in to see Gertrude by himself. There is a pained, awkward dialogue between them. He is appalled and embarrassed, but finally angry. She is contrite and also afraid, and bursts into sobbing. He asks if she wishes to come back with him, she and her child, and (to our surprise) she says she does, and weeps more uncontrollably. At this Stephen is overwhelmed with compassion: "God forgives us, he says. Who am I not to forgive? Let us pray." They are reconciled. Stephen then asks her about Absalom, and she is able to offer some help: Absalom has been a friend of the son of their brother John, whom Stephen now wishes to visit. Stephen then meets Gertrude's son, and is touched by him. Later in the day Gertrude, her son and her belongings are taken from the house in Claremont, and she comes to stay with the kindly Mrs. Lithebe, who is also putting Stephen up. He ends the day feeling that things are going well.