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CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES
From the village of Ixopo runs a lovely road meandering past verdant hills; it leads to the fairest valley of Africa - Umzimkulu. Beyond and behind the river Umzimkulu are many-fold veils of the mountains of Ingeli and East Griqualand. Over the hills the grass is rich and malted, holding rain and mist in its bosom. Overgrazing and frequent fires damage the soil. The soil as it tapers into the valleys turns red with its top parched, for it cannot hold rain and mist. The soil is coarse, sharp and stony damaged by frequent fires and destroyed by overgrazing. The valleys are sad and desolate. They house only old men, old women, mothers and children: the men, the young men and girls are away, for like the rain and mist, the soil cannot hold them any longer.
"There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills" - the first sentence itself established the mood and ambiance of the novel, which is poetic and ponderous in nature. The novel is an elegy to Patonís beloved country, South Africa from whose bowels, moral disintegration and crime have emanated, corroding the valley, which was once green. The rhythmic repetition of sentences and techniques of comparison enhance the elegiac tone of the novel. The geographical divide of the two contrasting areas symbolizes the relative positions of the two races. The whites reside above the natives, on the hill, where the grass is rich and the soil is healthy. The natives stay below the hill, on the land that is barren and eroded.
The influence of Steinbeckís The Grapes of Wrath is unmistakable it comes out most silently, in Patonís deployment of intercalary chapters, in his reverent treatment of the land and in the novels central motif of a quest. The novel begins with the description of Ixopo the town close to Ndotsheni, which is the home of the chief protagonist, Stephen Kumalo. Hence, the reader finds Paton using an intercalate chapter for establishing the missing scene.
There is a deep-set reverence for the soil; the soil is described in epithets, which emote sanctity. Paton hints at a symbolic relationship between man and soil - "keep it, guard it, care for it, for it keeps men, guards men, cares for men. Destroy it and man in destroyed." The natives have stopped caring for the soil, hence the soil cannot hold its people any more; the young men and women are spewed out like sparks from the fury earth. The soil echoes the tragedy of the natives; the clouds pouring down upon red hills seem to lacerate the earth from which streams of blood flow. South Africa seems to cry tears if blood for the inequitable distribution of land and for the misery of natives.
Simplicity of style is the hallmark of the novel. There are short, simple sentences, frequent repetitions and parallel phrases. The fundamental style corresponds to the fundamental problems encountered by the natives.
A small child scampers toward the church and knocks at Reverend Stephen Kumaloís door. The Reverend opens the door and the child timidly hands the umfundisi a letter. He tells the child to get same food for himself from the mother; while the child saunters to get some food, Kumalo panders over the letter. The letter comes from Johannesburg; many of his own kindred in Johannesburg and Kumalo wonders who would have written to him. Kumaloís brother John, who was carpenter, had setup his business in Sophiatown, in Johannesburg. His younger sister Gertrude had left for Johannesburg, with her son to search for her husband who had never returned from the mines. Kumaloís son Absalom had gone there to look for his aunt but similarly, never came back. The ominous letter disconcerts Kumalo and he is reluctant to open it. His wife is also apprehensive but gathers courage to open it. The letter come from a certain Theophilus Msimangu and informs that Gertrude Kumalo is very sick and urges her brother to come to Johannesburg at once. There is a frozen silence as Kumalo and his wife tries absorbing the implications of this dreadful news. They resolve to use the money they had set aside to send their only son Absalom to St. Chadís, to cover the expenses for Kumaloís impending trip. The letter has raked his wounds afresh and Kumalo is hurt and angry that none of his kindred have ever written to him from Johannesburg. He walks with a heavy heart to the church to pray for them while the wife rests her head on the table, weary of the silent, unmitigated suffering which almost unfailingly comes to all black woman.
After getting the reader acquainted with the backdrop, Paton zeroes in on the life of the central character, Stephen Kumalo. The family unit is most important in the native world; it binds not only the immediate family, but also the relatives. In fact the entire village itself is this nucleus, which has been eroded by the unjust distribution of land. The unjust distribution of land has led to the migration of native men and women to cities this has resulted in the disintegration of the native world. This is the story of Stephen Kumalo of Ndotsheni whose son and sibling have gone to Johannesburg and have never returned or written back. Letters are the only connection, but Kumalo has been deprived of them. Hence, the arrival of the letter is a great occasion but it spells happiness and fear Kumalo is hesitant to open the letter.
The angry reaction of Kumalo to the letter gives a glimpse in his character Kumalo is a very sensitive soul, easily affected by things, but his anger is a symptom of his immense love for his people. It is this love, which makes him ready to utilize the money he had set aside for his sonís education. Kumalo is a person given to self-reflection; quick to realize his mistakes. He realizes that his angry words may have upset his wife and he is apologetic.
It must be noted that Paton has used Biblical names for his characters. Stephen Kumalo is named after the first Christian martyr. St. Stephen His son Absalom gets his name from King Davidís son, who rebelled, against his father. While trying to flee, Absalom was caught in the branches of an oak tree and was slain by goal, which drove three darts in Absalomís heart.