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SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)
Stephen Kumalo is a simple native priest who lives in an underdeveloped village, Ndotsheni. His brother, sister and his son have gone to Johannesburg and have never returned. A letter arrives from Mission House, Johannesburg from a priest called Msimangu, asking Kumalo to visit Johannesburg, at once. Full of fear and a anxiety, Kumalo arrives in the city.
Reverend Msimangu houses him in Mrs. Lithebe's cottage. From Msimangu, Kumalo learns that his sister, Gertrude has become a prostitute and that his brother John has become a politician and has reflected the Church. Kumalo is visibly upset and visits his sister, who lives in the shoddy slums of Claremonte. Gertrude is scared to see her brother for having fallen into prostitution. Kumalo is angry with her but Gerturdeís suffering and helpless and moves him to mercy. He takes Gertrude and her son along with him.
With the invaluable assistance of Msimangu, Stephen Kumalo sets out in the search of his son, Absalom. The trail leads them from one place to the other. From Alexandra to the shantytown of Orlando and from there to the young girlfriend of his son. At each place they inquire about Absalom, they encounter fear and suspicion. They learn that Absalom did not keep good company and was involved in shady activities. This information about his son depresses Kumalo, greatly and he sinks to despair.
Msimangu takes Kumalo to Enzenzelni, a home for blind men run by the whites. Then comes the news of the killing of Arthur Jarvis, by a native man. The slaying of the dedicated, upright white man casts a pall everyone and escalates Kumaloís despair. Msimangu takes Kumalo to Enzenzelni to help him recover from his depression. At Enzenzelni, thanks to many kind-hearted whites, the blind black men have found a direction in life: this prospect of amity and cooperation between the two races fills Kumaloís heart with sunshine and lifts him from the darkness of despair. However, close on heels comes the devastating news that his son has been arrested for killing Arthur Jarvis and Kumalo plunges back into grief and despondency.
The police have also arrested John Kumalo's son and another native boy, but Absalom is the prime accused. John Kumalo decides to hire lawyer for his son to prove that his son was not present at the site of the murder. Stephen Kumalo is pained at his brotherís face. The confrontation with his son also leaves Kumalo thoroughly drained. The white man, who had attempted to improve Absalom at the reformatory, is bitterly disillusioned with Absalomís failure and vents his frustration on Kumalo. Broken and browbeaten, Kumalo turns to Father Vincent for help.
Father Vincent decides to fetch a lawyer for Absalom. Mr. Carmichael, a city lawyer takes up Absalomís case, pro bono Ďfor Godí and refuses to take any fee for it. Kumalo is deeply stirred by the white manís goodness.
Meanwhile, Stephen Kumalo visits Absalomís girlfriend and asks her if she is ready to marry Absalom and then come to stay with his family in Ndotsheni. The young girl gladly agrees to it.
James Jarvis is a wealthy landowner who resides in High Place, verdant, blooming land above Ndotsheni. His only son Arthur is an engineer in Johannesburg. As he stands thinking about his son, car approaches James Jarvis and the police officers stepping out of it inform him of the death of his son.
James Jarvis and his wife leave for Johannesburg. In Johannesburg, Arthur's brother-in-law, John Harrison, receives them. The latter tells them about Arthurís dedication to the native cause and the cruel irony that he was slain while he wrote an exposition on the causes of native crime.
James Jarvis reads various articles written by his son which express his views on the native problem. His sonís exposition opens a new perspective of viewing the natives and James Jarvis realizes the duty that Whites owe to them.
Meanwhile, the trial of those accused in Arthur Jarvis murder case commences. Absalom Kumalo admits that he had fired the fatal shot but maintains that is was triggered by fear and accidental. The other two accused deny being present at the site of killing.
Jarvis goes to spring to meet one of his wifeís nieces; there he happens to meet Kumalo, who has come to inquire from Barbara Smith the whereabouts of Sibelcoís daughter. Kumalo recognizes Jarvis, and reels under the shock of the accidental meeting. Jarvis cannot fathom the parsonís discomfort, but later he understands it after being informed by Kumalo that he is the father of his son's alleged assassin.
Due to the killings and the intensification of repression by the whites, the atmosphere of Johannesburg is very charged. John Kumalo makes a thundering speech against the government. Msimangu remarks that it is better that John is corrupt else he would have a bloody riot in Africa.
The trial of the three accused in Arthur Jarvisís murder comes to a close. Absalom is found guilty and is given a death sentence. Kumalo is heartbroken. A quiet wedding ceremony takes place in the prison. Absalom and the young girl are declared man and wife. Absalom wants his unborn son to be named Peter. Absalom is scared of death and doesnít want to let go off his father. He weeps like a child and has to be dragged away from his father.
Mrs. Lithebe arranges a simple farewell party. Kumalo thanks everyone for his or her love and assistance. Msimangu announces that he is joining the monastery and leaves his savings with Kumalo.
Early next morning, Kumalo leaves for Ndotsheni accompanied by Absalomís wife and his nephew: Gertrude has disappeared.
Kumalo arrives at Ndotsheni; his parishioners greet him with great warmth and happiness. Kumalo goes to the church and prays for the family, he confesses before the village, the sins of his son and the rest of his family. The villagers are moved and so generous is their love for the parson, that they overlook his sonís crime.
There is a terrible drought in the land. Kumalo meets the village chief and the school headmaster with pleas to do something for the restoration of Ndotsheni. The chief's insensitivity and the schoolmaster's helplessness disappoint Kumalo.
Kumalo meets the late Arthur Jarvisí son, who is riding past his house. During the conversation between the two, the child learns that there is no milk in Ndotsheni and Kuluseís child is dying for he has no milk. That night, cart-full of milk cans arrives at Ndotsheni, with a message from James Jarvis, that the milk cans would come regularly to Ndostsheni till the grass grows in the village and they have milk again. Kumalo is overwhelmed with happiness.
Letters arrive from Johannesburg informing Kumalo that his son would be hanged on the fifteenth of the month.
Kumalo stands outside the house, trying to spot clouds in the sky. Just then a car arrives, Jarvis and few white men step out accompanied by the magistrate. Jarvis examines the ground and asks his men to plant sticks at certain places. All of a sudden, it starts pouring; Jarvis takes shelter in Kumaloís church and observes its rickety condition. Jarvis asks Kumalo, if any mercy has been shown in Absalomís case, Kumalo tells him no. Jarvis says that he is sorry for him.
There is an air of optimism prevalent in Ndotsheni because of Jarvisí interest in the welfare of the village. This felling of elation is heightened by the entry of the agricultural demonstrator, who is brought by Jarvis to help the Farmerís correct their farming technique and to construct a dam.
Jarvisí grandson tells Kumalo that he will be leaving for Johannesburg. Kumalo replies that something bright would go out of Ndotsheni, with his departure.
Jarvisí wife passes away, Kumalo and the villagers are extremely sorry for Jarvis. They prepare a wreath for the lady, and Kumalo writes a letter of condolence.
The Bishop wants Kumalo to leave Ndotsheni, for he has no money to maintain the church and his familyís disgrace is a bad example for the villagers. A letter arrives from Jarvis informing Kumalo that he wishes to build a new church for Ndotsheni. The Bishop is awestruck and says that Godís wishes Kumalo to stay in Ndotsheni.
On the fourteenth of the month, the day before his son is to be hanged; Kumalo goes to the mountain. On the way he meets Jarvis, who tells him, that he is shifting to Johannesburg. The two men are rapt in the memories of their sons. Kumalo weeps openly. Jarvis puts his hand on him. After Jarvis departs, Kumalo prays for his son and for his country. He ponders the problems of his country and prays for the dawn of a brighter tomorrow for South Africa, which would displace the darkness of night with it's bondage and fear.