Absalom’s trial begins. Europeans sit on one side of the courtroom and non-Europeans sit on the other. The narrator notes that in South Africa, the judges are treated with great respect by all races, but though they are just, they often enforce unjust laws created by the white people. Absalom’s two accomplices plead not guilty, but Absalom’s lawyer says that Absalom will plead guilty only to “culpable homicide” since Absalom did not intend to kill Arthur Jarvis. The prosecutor denies this petition, however, and Absalom is forced to enter a plea of not guilty.
The other two defendants—John’s son, Matthew, and a man named Johannes Pafuri—look sad and shocked while Absalom tells his side of the story. Absalom says that Johannes planned the robbery after hearing “a voice” that told him a time and date. After entering Arthur Jarvis’s house, Absalom says, Johannes confronted Arthur’s servant and demanded money and clothes. When the servant called out for his master, Johannes hit him over the head with an iron bar. Arthur burst in on the robbers, and Absalom fired his gun because he was frightened. He and his companions ran away. The judge asks Absalom why he brought the revolver, and Absalom says it was for his own protection. He also tells the court that Johannes brought the iron bar and claimed it had been blessed. The judge interrupts to ask Absalom if his father would bless such a weapon.
Absalom then resumes his narration: after the murder, he went to Mrs. Mkize’s house, where he met his accomplices, then buried his revolver in a plantation field. He says that anyone—Mrs. Mkize, Matthew, or Johannes—who denies this claim is lying. He then says that he prayed for forgiveness. He spent the following day wandering around Johannesburg and ended up in a friend’s house in Germiston. When the police found him there, they questioned him about Johannes, but Absalom told them that he himself shot Jarvis and indicated where the gun might be found. He meant to confess earlier, but he waited too long, and when the police arrived, he realized that waiting was a mistake. The court adjourns, and outside Kumalo sees Jarvis. He says nothing, however, because he feels that there is nothing he can possibly say to him.
The trial receives little publicity because the front pages all carry news that gold has been discovered at Odendaalsrust. There is excitement at the stock exchange and talk of a “second Johannesburg” being built. Before the discovery of gold, the land was wasted, but the engineers’ patience has finally paid off, and the stock prices are soaring. The English say that it is a shame that these prodigious feats of engineering should have such ugly Afrikaans names and that it is a shame that the Afrikaners cannot see that a bilingual state is a waste of time. In the spirit of unity, however, they keep their thoughts to themselves.
An anonymous conservative voice takes over the chapter, noting that some do-gooders want the new profits to go toward subsidizing social services or higher wages for the miners. This voice notes that it is a pity that these people, most of whom have no financial standing to speak of, are so good with words, such as a strange priest named Father Beresford. The thinking of these people is muddled, the voice says, and the narrator unjustly accuses the people of Johannesburg of being greedy when many of the town’s prominent citizens actually give money to charities and collect art.
Another voice begins, this time one that is more liberal. It praises the work of Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, who suggests that the new mines should house whole families in villages rather than house male workers in crowded compounds. Money is not everything, the voice says, and the world does not need a second Johannesburg.
Jarvis returns to Arthur’s house and finds an article entitled “Private Essay on the Evolution of a South African.” In it, Arthur writes that he had an idyllic childhood and was raised by parents who taught him about honor, charity, and generosity. They taught him nothing, however, of South Africa. Jarvis is so hurt and angered by this statement that he almost leaves the house. At the last minute, he stops and returns to the essay. Arthur explains that he will now devote himself to truth and justice in his country, not because he is especially courageous, but because he wishes to be released from the contradictions that mar his everyday life. He no longer wants to be idealistic in some parts of his life and self-protective in others. He hopes that his children will come to feel as he feels. Jarvis is moved and sits thinking for a long time. He eventually gets up to leave, and the narrator notes that the bloodstained back passageway where Arthur was killed holds no power over Jarvis now. Jarvis leaves from the front door.
Absalom’s testimony adds religious overtones to the actions surrounding Arthur Jarvis’s murder. The “voice” that tells Johannes when the robbery should be committed and the allegedly “blessed” nature of the iron rod, for example, suggest that Johannes, at least, thinks of the robbery as divine retribution for the inequalities that plague blacks. Absalom, however, is uncomfortable with the violent and superstitious nature of Johannes’s claims. Though he gets involved in the un-Christian act of robbery, he does so not to harm someone else but for gain; he seems slightly less immoral than Johannes. Furthermore, Absalom reverts to his Christian teachings after the murder. Unlike Johannes and Matthew, who do everything they can to escape blame, Absalom prays for forgiveness after he buries the weapon. He accepts his guilt and even confesses, knowing that he has done wrong.
The return of the unidentified and impersonal narrative voice in Chapter 23 to announce the discovery of gold in Odendaalsrust reflects white South Africa’s skewed priorities. The mines are a powerful but understated presence up to this point in the novel, but here Paton thrusts them into the foreground to highlight their role in creating the tension between the issue of white wealth and black poverty. The news of these new gold mines completely eclipses news of the Arthur Jarvis murder trial, demonstrating that white South Africa, in general, cares much more about wealth than about its dire race problems. This discovery of gold makes grown men weep or sing about the performance of gold stocks, and these greedy whites prefer to ignore the inequalities created by the racist system that benefits them so much. Instead, they focus on the power of money, which can create a whole city where there is only grass and dirt.
This narrator also implies that power and wealth are not simply issues of white versus black. There are also political and social differences between South Africa’s English inhabitants and its Afrikaners. The grumblings over the name of the mine seem to imply that the Afrikaners are a major presence in the mines and that the English would rather they not be. The voice also brings up the issue of the bilingual state and remarks wistfully how much easier it would be if the Afrikaners would simply accept English as the nation’s language. Clearly, black Africans are not the only South Africans whose culture is being targeted. But though the English dislike Afrikaans, they do tolerate the language and consider it South Africa’s second language. They utterly dismiss, on the other hand, native African tongues such as Zulu and Xhosa.
In Chapter 24, the character of Arthur Jarvis is resurrected through his essay on his personal evolution. Until now, while certainly an admirable figure, Jarvis has been a figure of passion and politics, but without much personality. This essay, however, allows for some real communication from son to father, an experience so intense that the older Jarvis almost flees the room. Eventually, however, James Jarvis forces himself to read his son’s essay, and in doing so, he takes the first step in fulfilling his recent wish to know his son better. While father and son often disagreed in life, Arthur’s writings offer his father some comfort from the grave.