In the end, an anonymous voice tells us, the strike amounts to very little. There is some trouble at the mines, and three black miners are killed, but the strike never spreads. A clergyman at one of the nation’s religious conferences brings up the issue of black laborers, but, the voice notes, it’s easier not to think about such things. The voice restates that the strike is over and notes that everything is quiet. Even in the most serene place, a voice retorts, there is no silence. Only fools are quiet.
Summary — Chapter 27
Mrs. Lithebe again reprimands Gertrude for talking and laughing carelessly. Gertrude is defensive and upset, and Mrs. Lithebe tells Gertrude that she does not understand the ways of decent people. Gertrude faults Johannesburg for her corruption and says she will be glad to be gone. Meanwhile, a neighbor brings a newspaper that announces that another white man has been murdered during a break-in by a native. The neighbor and Mrs. Lithebe worry that the news will hurt Absalom’s case. Msimangu arrives, and he and Mrs. Lithebe decide to hide the paper from Kumalo. To prevent Kumalo from hearing the news, they eat dinner at Mrs. Lithebe’s instead of at the mission.
Afterward, the group goes to church and listens to a woman describe her decision to become a nun. Later that night, Gertrude suggests to Mrs. Lithebe that she might become a nun. Mrs. Lithebe is pleased by the impulse, and says it warrants further thought. Gertrude asks Absalom’s girlfriend if she will look after Gertrude’s son if Gertrude becomes a nun, and the girl agrees. Gertrude makes Absalom’s girlfriend promise to keep Gertrude’s idea a secret until it is final, but Gertrude hopes out loud that this decision will keep her from her careless lifestyle.
Analysis — Book II: Chapters 25–27
Chapter 25 proves to be a pivotal meeting point for the novel’s two main perspectives. Book I follows Kumalo, and until this point, Book II has largely been told from Jarvis’s point of view. In Chapter 25, the two men finally meet, and their stories intersect. Paton’s decision to narrate their meeting from Jarvis’s point of view gives us a new perspective on the story. This narrative structure puts us in Jarvis’s shoes. When Jarvis answers the door and finds Kumalo, we are told only that a frail black parson is there. Though we quickly realize that this man must be Kumalo, we share Jarvis’s confusion and suspense until Kumalo identifies himself several pages later. This distance between the two characters mirrors the distance between South Africa’s white and black populations in general. Seeing things from Jarvis’s point of view also gives us a new perspective on Kumalo. Having seen Kumalo’s quest for his son through Kumalo’s eyes, we do not realize what a physical toll this search has taken until Jarvis notices how weak Kumalo is. We also more fully understand Kumalo’s grief for what his son has done because we see how much encountering Jarvis upsets him. Paton makes these two stories intersect in a manner that reinforces not only the distance between whites and blacks but also the nature of their conflict—that blacks are weak and powerless whereas whites are strong and powerful.
Jarvis struggles with a conflict between his conservative perspective that “natives” do not deserve the same considerations as white people, a belief exemplified by Barbara Smith’s curt dismissal of Kumalo’s inquiry about his friend’s daughter, and his desire to extend compassion and courtesy to a frail old man. This split attitude helps explain Jarvis’s interaction with Kumalo at the door. He picks up Kumalo’s walking stick when Kumalo drops it, but he becomes “torn between compassion and irritation” when Kumalo accidentally drops a bunch of papers. When Kumalo explains to Jarvis, however, that “the heaviest thing of all my years, is the heaviest thing of all your years also,” Jarvis seems to understand that the grief the men share puts them on common ground. What differentiates Jarvis from whites such as Barbara Smith, then, is his ability to empathize and identify with others regardless of skin color.
Chapter 26 is a meditation on the complicated relationship between words and social change. John Kumalo speaks beautifully, but he does not demand radical change in the circumstances facing the black population. As Msimangu explains, John is too attached to his own possessions and social position to put himself in real danger. This episode raises some interesting questions about Paton’s views on the merit of words versus action. We see the power of words in the eloquent writings of Arthur Jarvis, and it never occurs to us to question their honesty and ability to change things. With John Kumalo, however, we begin to see that simple eloquence is not enough to bring about social change. The same can be said for unfocused action as well, as can be seen in the easy put-down of the strike. With these examples, the novel argues that social protest does not have meaning without the good intentions and methodical planning necessary to see it through.
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