Summary and Analysis
Book 2: Chapters 18-21
This chapter starts very much like Chapter 1, with a description of the countryside around Ixopo, but instead of leading down to the washed-out, eroded gullies and barren lands, it leads up to the highlands, rich and fertile, and to "High Place," the home of James Jarvis.
Jarvis is shown to be quite an ordinary man, one who is disturbed by the plight of the natives, yet so concerned with his own problems that he finds he cannot solve the plight of the natives or his own problems. It is easier not to act than to act, yet he continues to be conscious of a deteriorating state of affairs.
His love of the land matches that shown earlier by Stephen. The land was his father's before him. This is the place where he was born and grew up, where he married and fathered a son, and where the son grew up.
Jarvis is a decent man, if limited, and has some decent feelings for both the people and the land itself. In fact, he is a fairly close parallel to Stephen. Both come from the same region, and both are simple, honest men who are not (at least at the start) aware of how severely things have broken down and how drastic the situation has become. Both are happily married and have one son whom they love very much. And now both men are confronted by the same tragedy.
Chapter 19 marks the start of James Jarvis' education. In many ways it parallels Stephen's education, for both men learn about the problems of Johannesburg from having those problems forced on them. Both have been men of goodwill but have been very naive.
James Jarvis learns that Arthur would risk everything — his job, security, reputation, even the necessities of life — to help other people. This aspect of Arthur is unknown to his father, just as Absalom's life of crime was unknown to Stephen. Both fathers have a terrible need to understand, and this chapter shows that need being born in James Jarvis.
John Harrison is another man of goodwill, but with severe limitations; he is one who admires Arthur Jarvis yet is incapable of understanding or imitating him. He regards Arthur as a dreamer and himself as a practical man. Although he may admire a dreamer or idealist, he puts little stock in ideals.
Thus, we see the relationship of fathers and sons concerning social problems. Jarvis mentions that he and his son had differed quite strongly on the question of black problems. John Harrison also admits that he and his father had arguments about social problems. Paton is trying here to suggest that the younger generation is more conscious of the need for social change. This argument should be contrasted to what is happening with Stephen and his son, who apparently disagree as to the proper ethics of life.
What most influences Jarvis about his son Arthur is the knowledge that Arthur had been threatened 6n several occasions, but had answered the threats by saying he had to speak the truth under any circumstance. Jarvis also hears his son spoken of as a missionary, realizes that he never really knew his son, and wonders how many of these values were instilled in his son during his youth.
The things a man possesses often tell a great deal about that man. An examination of the possessions of Arthur Jarvis reveals his books are directed toward one facet of life. One entire bookshelf is devoted to books about Lincoln and the emancipation of blacks in America. Other books are about South Africa and its racial and social problems. In addition to Shakespeare's plays are books about religion, justice, and crime. From these books, we can assume that Arthur Jarvis was vitally interested in the social development of his country and had read extensively about its history and social problems.
Besides the books, there are significant pictures in the room that reveal more about Arthur Jarvis. The portraits of Jesus and Lincoln, both men of action and of compassion, reveal Arthur's concern for humanity. Both men thought deeply before acting, both showed great compassion not only for their friends and followers but for their enemies, and both suffered and died for their beliefs.
The depth of Arthur Jarvis' mind is seen in the page of an unfinished letter that his father reads. It is well-reasoned, it shows a knowledge of the nation's history, and it shows a concern for helping the oppressed rather than attacking the oppressors. Arthur was more concerned with appealing to the best in the oppressors instead of appealing to the worst in the oppressed. All of these ideas are new to James Jarvis; it is small wonder that he finds himself overwhelmed and has to read the page a second time to take it all in. His search for his son is well under way. His education in humanity has begun.
The beginning of Chapter 21 reverberates with the idea of "why this young man had to die." Jarvis tries to discover some logical reason why his son, who had been such an advocate for justice, had to die.
The great mass of people at Arthur's funeral affects Mr. Jarvis in two ways. Besides impressing him with the admiration felt for his son in all sections of society, it brings him into contact, direct physical contact, and on the same level of grief, with all the races of South Africa. Hitherto, James Jarvis has largely seen the natives as labor, a commodity rather than a set of individuals, but now he is introduced to them on a different basis, one further step in his education.
With old Mr. Harrison, the novel introduces a Colonel Blimp-type figure, a man whose one idea is that anything that isn't English isn't much good, a limited man who is happy with his limitations because he never has to think. Mr. Harrison says the natives should be "put in their place." As for unions? Nonsense, don't allow them. Crime? Get more police and give the criminals stiffer sentences. And so on and on. One cannot reason with such a man. He is the traditional stone wall — firm and unyielding, but dense.
In Arthur Jarvis' manuscript, again there is a note of quiet reason; there is no ranting or raving or blaming. He was a sensible man trying to bring reason to bear on the racial problem rather than resorting to prejudice and emotionalism. He emphasized the inconsistency of people who believe that God gave man capacities and gifts to use, yet who deny the Africans the full use of their capacities; who believe in the brotherhood of man, except where Africans are involved; who believe in helping the underdog — unless he is African. These and many other inconsistencies, Arthur wrote, are the major source of the South African dilemma.
The chapter continues the analogies between Arthur Jarvis and Abraham Lincoln. Both men were concerned for the downtrodden, the victims of society, yet compassionate toward the people who had abused these victims. Both died at the hands of assassins before their works were finished. And whether he recognizes it at the moment or not, this similarity is likely one of the things that impresses Mr. Jarvis.