As Kumalo and his congregation prepare for a confirmation ceremony at the church, one of Jarvis’s workers brings word that Jarvis’s wife, Margaret, has died. As the women lament, Kumalo writes a letter of condolence to Jarvis in which he mentions that he suspects that Margaret is partly responsible for the great contributions Jarvis is making to the village. He questions whether to send it, wondering whether Arthur’s murder is somehow the cause of the sickness that killed her. He decides, however, that Jarvis is a man who stays by the path he has chosen, and sends the letter.
At the confirmation, rain leaks through the roof of the church and onto the congregation. Afterward, Kumalo and the Bishop meet privately. The Bishop thinks that Kumalo should leave Ndotsheni because his son killed Jarvis’s son, and because Absalom’s wife became pregnant out of wedlock. He has found a position for Kumalo where no one will know of these things. Kumalo is crushed but swallows the Bishop’s arguments and obeys. As he and the Bishop are talking, however, a timely letter arrives. Jarvis has written back, thanking Kumalo for his sympathy and assuring him that Arthur’s murder had nothing to do with his wife’s illness. He wants to build a new church for Ndotsheni. Elated, Kumalo shows the letter to the Bishop, and the Bishop agrees that it is God’s will for Kumalo to stay in Ndotsheni. Kumalo comes home to find his wife and other church members hard at work on a sympathy wreath for the Jarvis family. He sends a local man to gather the appropriate flowers for a white man’s wreath.
Napoleon Letsitsi, the agricultural expert, teaches the people new ways to plow. He plans to build a kraal, where the cattle will be kept. The villagers work with new spirit, but the ones who have had to give up their land are sullen. The future, Letsitsi tells Kumalo, will hold even bigger changes, and he hopes that the people will see the need for these changes themselves and not have to be convinced.
Kumalo praises Letsitsi, but Letsitsi is worried that it will take time for great improvements to happen. Letsitsi also speaks eagerly of the time when the people will not need to take the white man’s milk but will instead be able to provide milk of their own. Kumalo is disturbed by this sentiment, but Letsitsi is insistent. He is grateful to Jarvis, he says, and to other good white men, but though they pay his salary, he works for Africa and not for them. It is the white man’s policies that have made such improvements necessary, he says, and these efforts are only repayment for a debt long overdue. Letsitsi assures Kumalo, however, that he is not there to make trouble. Kumalo gives Letsitsi a final warning about hatred and power and is glad to see that the young man is interested in neither. Kumalo stands for a minute gazing at the stars and reflecting that these new, radical politics have come too late for him. There are some who might call him a white man’s dog, Kumalo thinks, but it is the way he has lived, and he has done with it what he can.
Kumalo has a place he goes to contemplate the weightier things in life, and on the night before Absalom is to die, he travels to this mountaintop to keep vigil. On the way, he meets Jarvis, who informs him that plans for the new church will arrive shortly. Jarvis thanks Kumalo for the sympathy wreath. They speak of Arthur’s son, then reminisce about Arthur himself. Jarvis asks where Kumalo is going, and when Kumalo replies, he says that he understands. Kumalo thanks Jarvis for all he has done for the village and tells Jarvis that he has been touched by God.
In his place of solitude, Kumalo goes over Absalom’s letters from prison, in which Absalom assures him that if he could return to Ndotsheni, he would. Kumalo repents for his own sins and gives thanks for the many blessings he has received during his time of trouble. He wakes up and turns his mind to the suffering of others—the missing Gertrude, the people of Shanty Town, his own wife, and above all, Absalom. Kumalo reflects on the plight of Africa and on Msimangu’s whispered fear that by the time the white man learns to love, the black man will have learned to hate. He sleeps and wakes up just before dawn, wondering what his son, who will be hanged when the sun rises, is doing at that moment. The light rises, and the narrator wonders when the light of emancipation will come to the forsaken land of South Africa.
In their final encounters, Kumalo and Jarvis become the closest they have ever been. They have slowly begun to understand each other’s customs and to communicate through gestures and words that each can understand. When Margaret Jarvis dies, Kumalo’s congregation mourns the death with the European custom of crafting a wreath. When Jarvis meets Kumalo as he climbs to a place of solitude, he greets the information with a solemn statement of understanding. Until now, the two men have been armed with good intentions but have failed to cross the lines into each other’s world. The imbalanced power dynamic between whites and blacks is still very much in play: Jarvis sits atop his horse while Kumalo humbly thanks him. Nevertheless, the intense moment of understanding and compassion that they share is perhaps a slight step toward bridging the country’s enormous racial divide.
Absalom too comes to embody this idea that sometimes understanding one’s situation is enough. The last time we encounter Absalom, in Chapter 29, he is groveling in the prison in front of his father, being drawn away to his cell on death row without any trace of dignity. His letters from prison since Kumalo’s departure, however, reflect an increasing peace that comes with his understanding his circumstances. He does not protest against his fate; rather, he deals with it as maturely as possible, perhaps taking solace in the notion that he is but a small part of a large universe that works in mysterious ways. It is not clear that Absalom is entirely reconciled to his fate—Kumalo wonders if his son can sleep and if he will enjoy his last meal—but Absalom’s letters imply a newfound peace of mind, which is something valuable in the turbulence of the times.
The final paragraph ends with the breaking of the dawn, but in many ways the novel ends with a sunset. Absalom, Arthur Jarvis, and Margaret Jarvis are all dead, and neither James Jarvis nor Kumalo will live much longer. Paton implies that their legacy of peace will not endure. A newer, more fiery school of thought is on the rise, and the redemption present in the novel’s conclusion will not prevent this radical approach from eventually dominating the country. Napoleon Letsitsi is not as corrupt as John Kumalo, but he still argues fiercely for black self-sufficiency and views Jarvis’s last gestures toward Ndotsheni as the payment of a debt rather than an act of generosity. As Kumalo stands outside his house, gazing at the stars, he becomes aware that this change is inevitable and that history may even view him as an impediment to this change. He does take some consolation, however, in knowing that his life has been the only kind he could possibly have led and hopes that the changes for the better will outpace the changes for the worse.