Book Two—Chapter Summaries
The first paragraph of this chapter repeats the memorable opening paragraph of Book One: we are back in the lovely Ixopo district, but now on the prosperous high farm of James Jarvis (already mentioned in Chapter 11). Jarvis climbs up to "the tops" on his land, partly to enjoy the view of the great Umzimkulu Valley, and worries about the drought, and about the problems of soil erosion and the inadequate farming methods employed by Africans. Then he sees policemen drive into the farm and begin walking up the slope towards him. The captain breaks to Jarvis the news of the death of his son Arthur, shot by an intruder that afternoon in his home. Jarvis is shocked, stunned. He accepts the police offer of an airplane trip to Johannesburg, and then, as the captain makes the necessary phone call, breaks the terrible news to his wife, whom we hear "crying and sobbing."
The senior Jarvises are welcomed and accommodated in Johannesburg by the Harrisons, the parents of Mary, Arthur's widow. Mary and her mother-in-law console each other in their grief. Once the formalities at the mortuary are concluded, Harrison senior and Jarvis talk sadly about Arthur. John Harrison, Mary's brother, admired Arthur intensely, but his father and Jarvis, white South Africans of the older generation, have never had much sympathy for or understanding of liberal attitudes towards black people. But Jarvis liked his son, and the two of them are impressed by the variety of people who have sent in messages of sympathy. Harrison speaks of the causes that Arthur espoused and the chances that he was prepared to take in pursuance of his beliefs. Jarvis is conscious that his son had traveled into territory that is unknown to him—though it may not be wholly unknown to his wife—and he feels rather challenged by this. He tells his wife that he wishes he had known his son more fully. He also cannot understand how this could have happened to someone like Arthur. The two embrace in their pain and sorrow.
His wife and daughter-in-law having returned to the Harrisons' house, James Jarvis sits alone in his son's study. He looks at Arthur's papers, among them many letters of invitation to meetings and gatherings of various kinds; letters of thanks, too. He looks at some of the books in his son's large collection: a whole bookcase full of books on Abraham Lincoln, and books on South African history, wildlife, religion, politics, criminology; and literary works. There are pictures too, one of Christ crucified, one of Lincoln, two of South African scenes. He finds an uncompleted essay that Arthur was writing, in which he distinguishes between what was permissible and what was not permissible in the actions of white people and governments. He suggests that it was all right to develop the country, but that it was never right to exploit human beings. In words reminiscent of those of Msimangu, he notes and regrets the disintegration of traditional tribal values, and insists that the ruling whites have a moral duty to devise an honest and fair solution to the social problem that has developed. Jarvis senior is interested and touched by all this. Deep in thought, he begins his walk home.
The funeral, with the presence of so many people of different races and a moving speech by the bishop, makes a great impact on Jarvis. He talks to Harrison, who speaks about the police investigation of the murder and more generally about African crime, and then offers a defense of the mines and their practices and a strongly conservative assessment of the socio-political situation. His son John says that Arthur would have challenged Harrison's views, and Jarvis wishes that he could have heard his son do so. He asks John if he will later take him to visit the Boys' Club that Arthur supported. The next morning, after giving more news of the police investigation, Harrison hands to Jarvis the manuscript on "native crime" that Arthur was working on when he was killed. Jarvis dwells painfully on the fact of Arthur's death, but then focuses on his words. Arthur points out eloquently that Christians are caught up in contradictions. They wish to follow the Gospel precepts, but because of their prejudices and fears they cannot bring themselves to do so. Jarvis is "deeply moved". His son's words and allegiances are beginning to resonate in his mind.
We are in the courtroom, for the trial of Absalom and his two associates. The atmosphere is solemn; in the public gallery, whites and "non-Europeans" are segregated, "according to the custom" (the novel was written before the introduction of formal Apartheid). We are told that the judges are incorruptible in their allegiance to the Law, but that the Law, made by white people, is not necessarily just. The trial begins. Absalom is questioned by the prosecutor and by the judge. We believe his vivid account of what happened: the three of them broke into the house, Pafuri struck the domestic servant, Arthur Jarvis appeared, and Absalom, who was carrying a revolver as a precaution, panicked and shot Jarvis, without meaning to kill him; then they ran away. The sharp questions thrown at Absalom, however, both confuse him a little and reveal the points where his motivations had not been thought through. The other two accused will claim that they were not at the scene. The court is adjourned, and the whites and the blacks leave through their separate doors. Stephen catches sight of James Jarvis, whose son his son has killed. He trembles, and turns away in fear and anguish.
This chapter is an interlude, though its theme is related to one of the central concerns of the novel. It is spoken by a white South African much interested in money, but what he says is shot through with an irony, which is recognizably Paton's. The speaker, like many others of his kind, is ecstatic that new rich goldfields have been discovered in the bare veld of the Orange Free State province, some way south of Johannesburg. Gold shares are shooting up in value, and all eyes are on South Africa; perhaps another Johannesburg will arise. The speaker's home language is English, and he complains comically that most goldmines have unpronounceable Afrikaans names. But he proclaims proudly the capitalist philosophy of the mines (as Harrison had in Chapter 4), maintaining that the wealth of the rich will help society in the long run, and he expresses scorn for those liberals and church people who think that the new profits might be spent directly on improving the lot of the poor. In the final paragraphs Paton speaks in his own voice: "mines are for men, not for money... No second Johannesburg is needed upon the earth. One is enough."
Jarvis, who is more and more intrigued and challenged by his son's thoughts and activities, goes back to his study, and looks around again at the pictures and the books. He sits at his son's desk, opens the drawers, and comes upon various articles, among them a "Private Essay on the Evolution of a South African". In it Arthur speaks of his upbringing, which was honorable and good in many ways, but which taught him nothing at all about the painful social realities of South Africa. Jarvis is "shocked and hurt" to read this, and walks around, trying to come to terms with this new ultimatum issued unwittingly by his dead son. He returns to his son's papers, and reads his account of his aims in life—his determination to do not what is expedient, but what is right; to try humbly to avoid the contradictions that most white South Africans get tangled up in. "I am moved by something that is not my own, that moves me to do what is right, at whatever cost it may be." Jarvis is now totally under the spell of his son's life and thoughts. He walks away from the house with a quiet new resoluteness.
Mr. and Mrs. Jarvis, on a day when the court is not in session, relax with a niece in Springs. While the two women go to the town, Jarvis stays in the house. There is a knock on the backdoor, and there stands an old black pastor, who immediately shows signs of acute distress and anxiety. (It is Stephen, delivering the message which he was given just before he stepped on to the train.) The pastor is overwhelmed and confused, much to the puzzlement of Jarvis. Then he recognizes that it is the priest from Ndotsheni. Jarvis says: "There is something between you and me, but I do not know what it is." Stephen finally, hesitantly, reveals the frightening truth: "It was my son that killed your son." Jarvis spends some minutes taking this in, and then tells Stephen that he is not angry. Stephen expresses his sorrow and sympathy. They speak a little about Arthur Jarvis, whom Stephen remembers as a boy "with a brightness in him"; and they are both deeply moved. An awkward but real rapport is established between them. Stephen then leaves by the back gate ("according to the custom"); Jarvis watches him intently as he departs.
This chapter focuses on unrest in the country, unrest, which is both a backdrop to, and potentially a kind of enlarged version of, Absalom's crime and his trial. John Kumalo, with his "great bull voice", eloquently addresses a large gathering. He arouses the crowd's emotions, but only to a certain point. The workers are demanding, he says, not the gold mines but a share in their wealth; they need better wages: why should the poor stay poor while the rich get richer? Various people offer their views of John Kumalo's speech. The policemen present regard him as dangerous yet ultimately cowardly. Stephen is very impressed. Msimangu acknowledges the power of his utterance but sees him as unwilling to make sacrifices. Jarvis and John Harrison are there too; Jarvis says he doesn't care for this kind of thing. Will there be a strike, a strike, which might spread and disrupt the whole country? "The strike has come and gone." It did not spread beyond the mines. A church leader says that the mine-workers' union should be recognized, but the official view is that the trouble is over and that "all is quiet". But things are never really quiet.
Mrs. Lithebe, ever wise and good, speaks urgently to Gertrude, whom she still finds, unlike Absalom's girlfriend, slack in her ways and in her talk. Gertrude is restless and unhappy. Someone brings the newspaper: there has been another murder of a white person by a black housebreaker. This news item, worrying in itself, is especially so just before the conclusion of Absalom's trial. Msimangu arranges that they all eat at Mrs. Lithebe's house, to prevent Stephen from seeing the newspaper headline. Later Gertrude, suddenly inspired (or apparently inspired) by a talk they have just heard, tells Mrs. Lithebe that she thinks she would like to become a nun. Mrs. Lithebe is delighted, but says that Gertrude must of course wait in order to test her vocation. Gertrude then whispers her idea to Absalom's girlfriend, and is assured by her that, if Gertrude left them, she would look after her son.
We are back in the solemn courtroom. The judge delivers his judgment. He deals first with Absalom's two co-accused. At the conclusion of a fairly tortuous argument, which involves problems associated with an identification parade—an argument about which the reader must feel some doubt—the judge decides that the presence of the two at the crime scene cannot be conclusively established. They are therefore acquitted. He then focuses on Absalom, who has admitted that he shot Arthur but says that he had no prior intention of doing so. In response to arguments advanced by the defense, the judge concedes that South African society may be deeply flawed, but says that the law must still be upheld. He considers the facts of the case as he sees them, and says that, though Absalom has been a credible witness, he cannot discover any extenuating circumstances. He therefore finds him guilty, and condemns him to be hanged. The courtroom is full of emotion. Absalom "falls to the floor, crying and sobbing." Women wail; Stephen cries, and is helped by Msimangu and by the young white official (who in so doing breaks the custom). Jarvis is there too, "stern and erect."
Stephen and others visit Absalom in prison. Father Vincent marries Absalom and his girl, but the fairly bleak occasion generates little emotion. Stephen, heartbroken, is left to say farewell to his son. They talk of practical matters (Stephen departs the next day) and of the future of Absalom's wife and child, but then Absalom breaks down, and both of them are overcome by grief. Absalom clings desperately to Stephen as he leaves. Later Stephen pays a final visit to John. He does not reproach him, but advises him to care for his son Matthew and cautions him about his political views. Suddenly he cannot resist hurting John by pretending that a friend has betrayed him. John is anxious, then angry, and ejects his brother; Stephen is "humiliated and ashamed". We then see Jarvis about to leave Johannesburg: Harrison senior is pleased about the death sentence; his son is delighted at the money that Jarvis leaves for the boys' club. There is a farewell gathering at Mrs. Lithebe's: Msimangu announces that he is to retire into a religious community. He later gives his little remaining wealth to Stephen. In the morning, as Stephen prepares to depart, he finds that Gertrude has gone.