Courtroom drama; social criticism

Point of View

Books I and III are largely told from Kumalo’s point of view, while Book II is told largely from Jarvis’s point of view. A number of chapters, however, feature a montage of voices from different layers of South African society, and the narrator also shows things from other characters’ perspectives from time to time.


Lyrical, grieving, elegiac, occasionally bitter




Mid-1940s, just after World War II, in Ndotsheni and Johannesburg, South Africa


When Kumalo sees in the newspaper that a white man has been killed by native South Africans during a break-in, he has a premonition that Absalom is involved.

Major Conflict

Stephen Kumalo struggles against the forces (white oppression, the corrupting influences of city life) that destroy his family and his country

Rising Action

Kumalo travels to Johannesburg to search for his son


Absalom is arrested for the murder of Arthur Jarvis

Falling Action

Absalom is sentenced to death; Jarvis works with Kumalo to improve conditions in the village; Absalom is hanged