About the Author: * White * Born in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa in 1903 * Father was Scottish and mother was South African of English heritage * Worked at a reformatory with black youths Historical information about the period of publication: * South Africa already colonized by Europeans * Rampant racism * Introduction of apartheid in 1948 Characteristics of the Genre * Show author’s disenchantment with a certain aspect of society * Deals with racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. * Usually a call for action, to get readers to support a cause or issue Plot Summary Stephen Kumalo, a priest in the small South African village of Ndotsheni receives a letter stating that he must travel to Johannesbur, New York City of South Africa. Upon arriving to Johannesburg, Kumalo is overwhelmed but is helped by a fellow priest named Msimangu. Kumalo finds his sister Gertrude living the life of a prostitute and attempts to sway her from her ways. While various events occur that teach the listener and Kumalo about the racial cleavages plaguing the country, Kumalo discovers that his son who he came to Johannesburg to find has accidentally murdered a prominent black South African rights advocate, Arthur Jarvis.
Kumalo befriends his son’s pregnant girlfriend and takes her under his wing as a sort of adopted child. Absalom is eventually ruled guilty of murder by the South African courts and is sentenced to hang. Grief stricken, Kumalo returns to his village to find it in a state of disrepair. While in Johannesburg we were introduced to Arthur Jarvis’ father, James Jarvis who comes into an uneasy relationship/friendship with Kumalo at this point. Arthur Jarvis’ son, who is learning Zulu and is eager to learn about the Black South African culture, introduces many helpful reforms to the village and institutes a large number of programs which allow Ndotsheni to begin to rise up again. This shows the ability and beauty of society when both races work together.
Describe the Author’s Style * Poetic * Descriptive * Sometimes a little bitter * Uses South African colloquialisms and vocabulary An example from text that denotes author’s style * And now for all the people of Africa, the beloved country. Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, God save Africa. But he would not see that salvation. It lay afar off, because men were afraid of it. Because, to tell the truth, they were afraid of him, and his wife, and Msimangu, and the young demonstrator. And what was there evil in their desires, in their hunger? That man should walk upright in the land where they were born, and be free to use the fruits of the earth, what was there evil in it? . . . They were afraid because they were so few. And such fear could not be cast out, but by love. Memorable Quotes
Quotation * “The white man has broken the tribe. And it is my belief—and again I ask your pardon—that it cannot be mended again.”—Msimangu * “I see only one hope for our country, and that is when white men and black men . . . desiring only the good of their country, come together to work for it”–Msimangu * “Cry for the broken tribe, for the law and the custom that is gone. Aye, and cry aloud for the man who is dead, for the woman and children bereaved. Cry, the beloved country, these things are not yet at an end.”—Arthur Jarvis Significance * Talks about how the white’s policies have destroyed the old tribal life. * Declares that the only hope for South Africa is mutual understanding and a communal work for the common good. * Also talks about how the non-understanding, empowered whites have destroyed the traditional way of living and its effect on the black population and the country as a whole. Characters
Name Role in the Story Significance Adjectives
Stephen KumaloJames JarvisAbsalom KumaloArthur JarvisTheophilus MsimanguJohn KumaloArthur’s sonNapoleon Letsitsi Main character throughout most of the novel.The other protagonistStephen’s sonJames’s sonStephen’s friend in JohannesburgStephen’s brotherArthur’s sonAgricultural helper in Ndotsheni Priest of Ndotsheni, Absalom’s fatherLandowner, Arthur’s fatherKills Arthur, is hanged for itWorks to help blacks, great reformer, killed by AbsalomHelps Stephen find Absalom, retires to monasteryOrator for civil rightsSpeaks Zulu with Stephen, gets milk to NdotsheniSent by James to help save Ndnotsheni’s drought-ruined fields Quiet, humble, imperfect, blackUnderstanding, forgiving, open to change, whiteCowardly, lacks moral compass, confusedIntelligent, “bright,” caring, independentKind, bitter, generous, sees things clearlyGreat “Bull voice,” selfish“Bright” like his father, caring, precociousSmart, creative, determined Setting(s) The small country village of Ndotsheni and the city of Johannesburg, South Africa, in the 1940s, pre-Apartheid, World War II. S
ignificance of Opening SceneDescribes the landscape and beauty of South Africa, showing both Paton’s and Kumalo’s attachment to the African land Significance of Closing SceneThe sunrise over Ndotsheni, symbolizing the eventual appearance of hope and change in South Africa. Many of the main characters in the book have died; Margaret, Arthur, Absalom…..Stephen and James are aging. Represents that this current understanding between a few people is not to last, a more fiery school of thought is on the rise. Symbols & Other Devices * The church in Ndotsheni * Light * Nature * Sunrises Possible Themes/Topics for Discussion (Motifs, Paradoxes, etc.) * Father/son relationships: both Stephen and James are searching for their sons (Stephen literally, James figuratively) and trying to understand who they are * Justice vs. injustice
* Who determines when mercy will be given and to whom? Judges? The individual? The people? God? * Appearance of God in daily life and nature * Black vs. white: should they work together or become separate? * Repentance: Is repenting enough to save you? Does repenting make you a good person in the end? * Equality and its ability to beautify society * Acceptance of one’s role in society, is it beneficial? * Is standing by the status quo, not adopting a progressive stance, helpful? Author’s PurposeProvide social commentary upon the troubles faced by black South Africans at the hands of white South Africans, and to humanize Africa’s call for help. Incite the reader to sympathize unilaterally with the cause of equality and note its clear benefits on the social fabric of a nation or other group of diversified peoples.