James Jarvis undergoes a journey parallel to that of Kumalo, although he is never granted the chance to be reunited with his son, Arthur, physically. Jarvis is a white, English-speaking farmer who lives on a hill above Ndotsheni. When the novel begins, Jarvis is ignorant of or indifferent to the injustices of South Africa. He cares for his farm and his family, and he more or less takes for granted the political system in which he lives. Jarvis’s complacency is shattered when he learns that his son has been killed. He goes to stay with his son’s in-laws, the Harrisons, in Johannesburg, where he learns that Arthur had become a leader in the community, valued by people from all racial groups for his speeches on social justice. Jarvis here realizes that his son had become a stranger to him.
In an effort to understand his son better, Jarvis reads Arthur’s writings about the injustices he perceives in South Africa, and he is moved by his son’s language and ideas. Jarvis does not undergo a political conversion so much as a moral one—he is not interested, for example, by John Kumalo’s speech before the strike at the mines. Once he returns to Ndotsheni, however, he works hard to make things better for the people of the village. He donates milk to the young children and arranges to have a dam built to irrigate the soil better. Additionally, he hires an agricultural expert to teach the farmers to preserve the soil. When he suffers from a second tragedy—the death of his wife—he consoles himself by carrying out his wife’s wish that he build a new church for the community. Jarvis’s efforts require personal sacrifices, as it costs him both money and the respect of many of his peers. It is clear, however, that he has made a firm commitment to the villagers, and, though he is a man of few words, he expresses himself beautifully through his actions.