Both Kumalo and Msimangu reproach Absalom’s girlfriend for her lifestyle, but she in fact shares many of Kumalo’s values, including an emphasis on family. She runs away from her own family, but she does so not because she dislikes the mutual dependency involved with belonging to a family—having to depend on others and having others depend on her. Rather, she leaves home because her deteriorating family fails to offer nurturing relationships. She fulfills her need for such relationships by taking lovers, whom she calls “husbands,” a term that demonstrates her desire to interact with others on a meaningful level. Similarly, her unreserved willingness to give herself to Kumalo—as either a lover or a daughter (she is quick to call Kumalo her new “father”)—illustrates how desperate she is to be loved. Stripped of everything by her circumstances, Absalom’s girlfriend still craves the family structure that Kumalo considers so important, and she makes do with what pieces of it she can find.

Gertrude’s strange behavior marks a fundamental perversity in her character, and it signals the novel’s tendency to relegate native women to the domestic sphere. The arrival of Absalom’s girlfriend makes it clear that black South African women endure a second type of segregation by being confined to their homes. Although it is mentioned that women are seen on the streets, every female character that the novel portrays as respectable speaks from inside her home: Mrs. Mkize, Mrs. Ndlela, and Mrs. Lithebe. Clearly, there is little value in the violence and degradation of Gertrude’s old life, but it is not surprising that she chafes at the strict rules that govern her life at Mrs. Lithebe’s house. The novel, however, presents Gertrude’s resistance to strictly defined gender roles as if it were a sign of mental illness. The novel deals too often with forgiveness to condemn Gertrude’s actions explicitly, but the fact that nobody can quite describe her strange laughter and carelessness makes her seem deranged. What one might reasonably see as resistance to domestication is instead shown as borderline insanity.

Mr. Carmichael carries himself like a “chief,” a description that gives some credit to the cultural institutions of native South Africans. In earlier chapters, John Kumalo calls the chiefs ignorant, and he likens them to the white man’s dogs. Mr. Carmichael, however, is a man of dignity and respect, and, even though he is white, he is a great friend and leader of black South Africans. He is a man of integrity who exists above the dominant prejudice of his era. Since he is the novel’s first example of a chief, his position seems like it is one of great responsibility and wisdom, one of the offices in South Africa capable of crossing racial lines. This impression of Mr. Carmichael is only fleeting and the position of chief becomes much less glamorous in later chapters, but the figure of Mr. Carmichael demonstrates what the chief once was and suggests what the chief has the potential to become.