Book II Chapters 22-25
Book II: Chapters 22-25
In the courtroom, the trial begins. Absalom tries to plead guilty to culpable homicide, since he claims he did not intend to kill. But the judge will not allow this, since the charge against Absalom is murder. Absalom then pleads not guilty, as do his two associates.
Under examination by the prosecutor, Absalom tells the story of what happened inside the house. He says that Johannes Pafuri, one of the defendants, struck a black servant over the head with an iron bar. Then a white man came into the passage. Absalom was frightened, and fired the revolver he was carrying. The judge then asks some questions of his own, particularly how Absalom came to be in possession of a revolver. The judge's questions show that he is skeptical about Absalom's insistence that he took the revolver only to frighten, not to kill. The prosecutor then resumes his questions. Absalom insists that the other two defendants are lying when they say he made up the story about their involvement when he met them by chance afterwards. He also testifies that when the police came for him, he confessed immediately, and told them where he had hidden the revolver. The court adjourns.
Meanwhile, in the wider South African world, gold has been discovered at Odendaalsrust in the Orange Free State. There is great excitement about this in Johannesburg, and people think South Africa is going to be rich again. The chapter is written mostly as a satire of the typical English-speaking white South African businessman in Johannesburg who thinks that whatever is good for business must by definition be good for everyone. The last two paragraphs, however, refute that view, making it plain that there needs to be a more equitable distribution of wealth among the people.
Jarvis returns to the house where his son was murdered, and reads another of the dead man's essays in which he describes how he plans to devote himself to South Africa, doing what is right, regardless of consequences. Once again, Jarvis is moved by what he reads.
Jarvis and his wife spend a day with their niece, Barbara Smith, in Springs. While the women are in town, Stephen Kumalo knocks at the door. Jarvis does not know who he is, only that he is a parson. Kumalo is fulfilling a request made to him by a man named Sibeko of Ndotsheni, to find out what has happened to his daughter, whom he has not heard from for a year. She went to work for the Smith family. Jarvis summons one of the servants, but he says the girl left before he came. Jarvis notices that the parson appears to be afraid of him, and inquires about it. Kumalo tells him that he is the father of the man who killed his, Jarvis's, son. Jarvis replies that he is not angry with him. Kumalo tells Jarvis that he feels deep sorrow for him. Barbara Smith then returns and says she had to send the girl away because she was brewing liquor in her room. She does not know where the girl is now. Kumalo leaves. There is a quiet warmth between him and Jarvis.
In these chapters, Paton draws on a historical event in South Africa, the discovery of gold deposits on a farm in the hamlet of Odendaalsrust in April, 1946. This discovery made front-page news in newspapers around the world. Ten miles south of Odendaalsrust, a new town called Welkom sprang up, around which the huge new gold mines were situated. To this day, gold mining is the mainstay of the local economy. Paton also mentions the name Sir Earnest Oppenheimer, describing him as "one of the great men of the mines." Oppenheimer (1880-1957), who was a German-born financier and chairman of the Anglo American Corporation at the time of the gold discovery, held enlightened views. His instructions for the building of Welkom were that it should be a town its inhabitants could be proud of, rather than a place designed only to exploit the labor of the black people.
These chapters also prepare the way for the growth in the character of Jarvis, and for the hopeful conclusion of the novel. Jarvis's meeting with Kumalo establishes a sympathy between the two men because of their shared grief.