Summary and Analysis
Book 2: Chapters 22-25
The technique of these chapters is to present the general picture of the court in detail, describing all the various aspects of the room. Later, the author will go into the dramatic trial scene in which Absalom is tried for the murder of Arthur Jarvis. Paton, who often brings the reader to a close emotional understanding of the African situation, reverses his technique in this chapter and instead creates an objective distance from his reader in order to present the courtroom scene. Instead of making it emotional, he presents it quietly. In other words, it is not his purpose to arouse any undue emotion over the trial itself: Absalom is guilty and must be found so. The intent is to get past this and investigate Kumalo's and Jarvis' reactions to the situation that brought about this unnecessary crime.
At the end of Chapter 22, there is the first recognition by Kumalo of Jarvis. In the courtroom, Kumalo recognizes Jarvis as the man from his own district, and he trembles in the presence of the man whose son was killed by Absalom.
Chapter 23 is about gold fever; it shows people driven nearly mad by gold, luxuriating in gold, in a frenzy over the state of their stocks, and weeping because they made only a small fortune and then sold their shares, instead of holding them and making a larger fortune. They weep for this but not for the families destroyed, lives destroyed, and land destroyed. The voices of those who want something not for themselves, but for others, are voices crying in the wilderness of this greed.
Among the strongest voices crying for sanity and compassion are the voices of the churches. Father Beresford here is rather like the real Father Trevor Huddleston and the former Anglican bishop of Johannesburg, both of whom worked desperately to enlighten the whites, educate the natives, and inform the world about the South African tragedy, and who were exiled from South Africa by its government.
Note the variations in style in this chapter. Paton is presenting varied views about the social situation, but he seldom speaks in his own voice. He makes his condemnations, but they occur most often in such terse and effective sentences as: "No second Johannesburg is needed upon the earth. One is enough."
In the next chapter, Arthur Jarvis' essay is self-explanatory, but Mr. Jarvis' angry reaction indicates his initial lack of understanding about his son's drives. He is angry that his son should judge him and find fault with him. Part of it is anger at Arthur's impudence, but part seems to be anger at himself, anger at the thought that he failed Arthur because he failed himself and his country. He took too much for granted. He ignored things that might have upset him. What Mr. Jarvis took for granted or ignored, Arthur questioned, investigated, and thought deeply about. It is hard for a father, after eighteen or twenty years of being looked up to by his children, or at least of being the judge of right and wrong, to realize that they know more than he does, or that they have more wisdom and courage and honesty than he has. It is something that is difficult to accept, even after such a blow as the son's murder.
Stephen's quest here, the one he promised to undertake for his friend back home, has proved almost as fruitless as his own search for Absalom. All three of the people he has looked for (Absalom, Gertrude, and the servant girl) have been corrupted by the city and its life. All have become criminals of one sort or another.
When the two fathers, Stephen Kumalo and James Jarvis, meet for the first time, both of them are bereft, both of them are grieving. Jarvis, however, has mellowed and changed. When Kumalo first appears, Jarvis is very kind and considerate of the old man's suffering. It is important to note that at this moment, Jarvis does not know that Kumalo is related to Absalom. But more important is that earlier, Jarvis would not have acted so kindly to any black man. Now he has changed and can recognize the great suffering in Kumalo's face even before he knows who Kumalo really is.
After Kumalo confesses that it was his son who killed Arthur, Mr. Jarvis tells Kumalo that there is no anger in him. Thus, the anger that Jarvis previously held has been modified by reading and understanding his son's views. Jarvis mentions his son to Kumalo, and the old minister says that there was a brightness in Arthur, a statement that touches Mr. Jarvis.
After they have talked, Jarvis performs a small act of kindness for Kumalo. When the niece says that she doesn't care what happened to the servant girl, Jarvis translates it simply that the niece does not know. He has gained a compassion and understanding that will lead him to perform the charitable acts in the remaining parts of the novel.