Book One—Discussion Questions
2. In Chapter 12 an unnamed speaker asks: "Which do we prefer, a law-abiding, industrious and purposeful native people, or a lawless, idle and purposeless people? The truth is that we do not know, for we fear them both." In the context of the novel this appears to be an enlightened statement; but note how both alternatives fail to posit the autonomy of African people. Comment on this issue.
3. What in your view is the significance of the visit to Ezenzeleni, the mission to the blind, in Chapter 13?
4. In Chapter 15 Father Vincent says: "But sorrow is better than fear. For fear impoverishes always, while sorrow may enrich." To this Stephen replies: "I do not know that I am enriched." Consider what exactly Father Vincent means. Why is Stephen unable to respond to what Father Vincent says? Do we feel that Stephen is in the end enriched by his sorrow? Try to elaborate.
5. Also in Chapter 15 Stephen complains to Father Vincent about Absalom: "He is a stranger," he said. "I cannot touch him, I cannot reach him." Give your interpretation of Absalom's state of mind and feeling.
6. At different times in Book One we see Stephen, Msimangu, and the young white reformatory official behaving strangely under the influence of grief and disappointment. Look carefully at these passages. What do you think the author is suggesting in them?
7. Paton's belief that God is or may be mysteriously at work in human affairs is suggested at a number of points. Give examples of some of the places in the novel where he advances this suggestion. How does he do it? Do you think this aspect of the novel is successful?
8. The subtitle of the novel is "A Story of Comfort in Desolation". We are constantly made aware, particularly through the experiences of Stephen, that comfort and desolation are subtly interwoven. Comment on this issue in whatever way you would like.