Summary and Analysis
Book 1: Chapters 3-5
The third chapter is another chapter interspersed to set the mood for the narrative following. The mood established in the opening paragraphs carries over into a description of the valley as cold and gloomy with a certain mystery attached to it.
The chapter slowly passes from the description of the exterior, physical world to the interior of Kumalo's mind, in which we discover his fears about his sister and about his son, and his qualms about catching a bus in the large city. Stephen's fears of Johannesburg are a part of his inexperience in coping with the white man's world, which for this simple man is a complicated world, full of traps and dangers, while his own area is simple and natural.
When Stephen's friend asks him to find Sibeko's daughter in the suburb of Springs, we are reminded that what has happened to Stephen's family is not an isolated case, but part of the general breaking up of African life and the disintegration of native family life. This sort of parallelism is a device Paton uses a great deal.
As soon as Kumalo is in the outside world, there is a significant change in his actions. Whereas in his own community he would never think of deceiving anyone, on the train he tries to give the impression that he has traveled often to various parts of the country. But after implying this, he feels the need to turn to his Bible for consolation. In this act, we see that as Kumalo ventures into a new and strange world, he takes strength from his Bible, which represents for him the old world of true values.
In a larger view of the novel, this chapter then is the beginning of a journey that will carry Kumalo through all types of new and different experiences. As old as he is, we will watch him develop new insights into the nature of life and society.
One of the dominant motifs throughout the novel is that of the fears each character feels in various situations. Even the people whom Kumalo meets in his search for his son seem governed by some type of inexpressible fear. Kumalo leaves on his journey filled with fear and foreboding.
In Chapter 4, as in Chapter 1, the landscape plays a symbolic role, for the slag heaps are like a sore on the land, the product of mines owned by whites. The picture of poverty and disintegration already shown is broadened here in the conversation of the clergymen, and the consequences of these conditions (crime, delinquency, and immorality of all kinds) are presented by both the clergymen and the newspaper headlines.
Undoubtedly, though, the most important element introduced here is fear. Stephen has shown timidity and fear in the face of this overawing white world he has encountered for the first time. But nothing has been said before of the fear on the other side: the fear the whites feel, fear fed by memories of the great Zulu wars of the past, and the knowledge of how greatly the blacks outnumber the whites.
As Kumalo travels from his native district to Johannesburg, there is also a significant change in the speech patterns. The native Zulu names are replaced with Afrikaner names. New names and new experiences will now confront the simple Kumalo. The reader, therefore, should note each new experience, even such seemingly trivial ones such as his first encounter with an indoor toilet. (There is a similar experience in Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath when Rose of Sharon finds and uses a toilet for the first time, then thinks that she has broken it.)
The discussion at the mission concerns the breakup of the tribes and the resultant loss of values. Kumalo is also confronted with his first severe disappointment when he learns that his sister has become a prostitute. For a simple man of God from the back country, this revelation confronts him with a situation he has never encountered before. He is virtually at a loss to know how to respond to it or what to do about it.
Amidst the discussion of the disintegration of the tribes, Kumalo is also faced with the primary task of trying to bring his personal family back together. There can be no tribal unit until the basic family unit is restored. Consequently, there runs throughout the novel an analogy between the breaking up of the greater society in contrast to Kumalo's attempts to restore his own family as a unit.
In contrast to all the fears and distrust bred by the great city stands the simple but benevolent priest, Msimangu. He will affect Kumalo's life more than any other person in the novel by his examples of unselfishness and devotion to others, and his service to humanity.
Msimangu states directly the central problem of the entire novel. The tragedy is that the black man exists between two worlds: Because the white man has broken the old world of the tribes, which cannot be mended and at the same time, neither the white man nor the black man has found anything to replace the lost, old world. At the end of the novel, we will see the agricultural man arriving and attempting to build something new for the natives in order to re-establish them on the land.