Summary and Analysis
Book 2: Chapters 26-29
John Kumalo's speech reveals him as a prophet, but a corrupt prophet, one who would never sacrifice his life, nor even sacrifice a week's or a day's income, for a cause. His voice is like a great bull or a lion roaring in an empty chasm. Dubula and Tomlinson are envious of the power of the voice, but they realize that Kumalo has no brains and no courage. Earlier John had ridiculed the people who stayed with the tribe and lived under the control of the chief who did nothing for the people. But now, with his voice, John is trying to emulate the role of the chief. As the police know, John will go only so far with his voice; he will retract rather than be arrested. Thus, he betrays the people who need him because he is unwilling to sacrifice himself in any way and desires only the power and notoriety caused by his speeches. Msimangu feels that it is perhaps good that John is corrupt because with his voice, he could cause South Africa to erupt into a bloodbath.
The news of the new crime — the new robbery and murder — is disastrous because the city and the nation are already so obsessed with fear. And since Absalom is on trial for a similar crime, there is a real possibility that he will be made to suffer for this crime, as well as the one he actually committed. Absalom is likely to be a scapegoat for all the fear, all the guilt, and all the crimes of the city. This desire for revenge has led the whites to demand more police protection rather than demanding more schools that could educate the masses who are performing the crimes.
In the trial scene, the reader should be aware of how carefully the judge evaluates his material — that any way one may look at the case, one must conclude that Absalom is guilty and must be judged accordingly. There is no indication that Absalom did not receive a fair trial. The chapter then presents the final recording of the preceding of the court: the conclusion is that according to the laws of South Africa, Absalom must be found guilty and must be hanged.
At the end of the chapter, the young white man who had been concerned with Absalom at the reformatory breaks the long-established tradition that the blacks remain on one side and the whites on the other. He goes across the color line in order to help Stephen Kumalo, who is about to collapse.
In Chapter 29, the girl's expression of delight at being Stephen's daughter-in-law after she marries Absalom indicates how much she has needed a father, a family, guidance, and love of some sort, and indicates how much she has missed and longed for these things. She is animated and alive for almost the first time.
Stephen goes to John for a moral purpose: he feels that he must warn John. We see again that John is a very shallow person, and Stephen suddenly has a strong desire to hurt his brother. This is the second time that Stephen has had this urge, and he tells a small lie to John so as to frighten him. He is also bitter that John's son betrayed Absalom and makes a caustic comment about Absalom's friends. But as soon as Kumalo hurts his brother, he regrets it immediately. He had wanted to tell his brother that power can corrupt and to warn him to seek better ways of expressing himself; instead, he became angered and merely hurt his brother. Afterward, however, he does ask forgiveness for his act.
Msimangu's decision to enter the monastery is ambiguous in its motivation. He had been the strong voice of rationalism and generosity for the black man, and now he is retiring from the field of struggle. We are told that he is the first black man to take such a step, but his reasons for doing so are not clear. At least his act provides some material benefits for Stephen Kumalo in the form of the savings account.
With Absalom sentenced to death and with Gertrude's disappearance, we see that Kumalo has totally failed to reunite his family, which was his original aim in coming to Johannesburg. Instead, he has formed a new family and has new hope that the young girl and Gertrude's boy can become symbols of a new type of African. Gertrude's disappearance from Mrs. Lithebe's is not too surprising since we have had intimations that she cannot overcome her old way of life.
Peter, the name Absalom wishes to give his son, is the name of the founder of the Christian church and means rock; this stresses again the fact that Kumalo might be able to establish or build a new type of life with these younger people.
The beginning of the change in John Jarvis occurs when he gives a large donation to the African Boys' Club, an organization that Arthur Jarvis had helped sponsor. We will see this change continue as he helps rebuild the valley where Kumalo lives. Thus Jarvis' son had more influence on his father after his death than during his life. Arthur Jarvis' life and death were not in vain.