Book One—Discussion Questions
10. The great journey from the country, with its problems, to the great city, Johannesburg, with its problems. John Kumalo, Gertrude and Absalom have made the journey. We see Stephen Kumalo making it. In his own way Alan Paton made it when he moved from being a schoolteacher in Natal to becoming a principal of a reformatory for young African offenders in 1935. Comment on whatever aspects of the journey, the transition, seem to you most significant—geographical, social, political, economic, and psychological.
11. Are the novel, and the South African situation that it evokes, so particular that it would be difficult to generalize from the experiences that we as readers undergo? Or could one argue that the movement offered here from country to town, from one set of problems to another, is the story of human civilization?
12. In 2 Samuel 13-19 in the Old Testament, Absalom, David's son, rebelled against his father, and was later killed by David's general. David lamented his son with the words: "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!" (2 Samuel 18:33) How important do you think it is to know this episode and to bear it in mind while reading of Stephen Kumalo and his son Absalom?
13. What in your view are the chief similarities and differences between Gertrude and Absalom's girlfriend?
14. Comment on the role, in Book One, of Msimangu.
15. What in your view is the significance in the novel of (a) Father Vincent and (b) Mrs. Lithebe?
16. Some critics and readers have felt that Paton's treatment of John Kumalo is unfair, and that the possibly implied link between his political views and the dishonest way in which he approaches Absalom's trial is not really justifiable. What do you think?