CHAPTERS 2 – 5
At the end of this note, you will find a glossary of words used
in the text. You will note that the small child refers to Reverend Kumalo as ‘umfundisi’, which is a word used specifically when addressing a pastor and is a token of respect.
We see that Kumalo is a kind man, but not worldly.
One of the themes of the book is the fast learning curve he is on concerning the modern South Africa.
There are specific religious overtones in the book regarding the
names and occupations of the characters.
Kumalo’s Christian name is Stephen, and we are reminded of the first Christian martyr St. Stephen who was stoned to death after being convicted of blasphemy. Kumalo’s brother is John who was a carpenter, and just like Jesus the carpenter, when he left his village great developments were to take place for him. Kumalo’s only son, Absalom corresponds to King David’s son who rebelled against his father. The full significance of these parallels becomes evident as the book progresses.
We learn that Kumalo’s sister, Gertrude, is some twenty-five
years younger than him, so there is a significant age gap between the two siblings.
We see that Kumalo is quick to anger when his wife reminds him
that his son has in fact turned his back on them, the consequence being that he has failed to obtain a proper education, even through Kumalo had saved money to finance his son’s education.
This area of South Africa is part of the Zulu homeland, and
although the vast majority of the natives are Christian, there are still references to their pagan Zulu past.
Instead of using ‘God’ as an expletive, Kumalo and others use the word ‘Tixo’, which refers to the Zulu’s great spirit.
As you can see, the book is easily read, the dialogue being in
the form of short statements, which are almost poetic in construction, but very easy to understand.
Kumalo’s journey to Johannesburg is very symbolic.
It marks a journey between the simple and the complex, country and city, good and evil, known and unknown. We see Kumalo’s naivety in allowing a boy to take his money to obtain a bus ticket so that he does not lose his place in the queue. It is only when he boards the bus that he realizes tickets are acquired from the driver.
Kumalo’s conversation with Msimangu shows that the latter is
much more sophisticated, and he understands the politics and social problems in the city. To Kumalo, Johannesburg is a new world, and he feels out of place and out of time.
One thing the old minister does sense is that the city is
gripped by fear, especially among the native population. This is another main theme of the novel – the fear experienced by the different characters in varying situations.
We learn of the widespread poverty that most of the native
people live in, and this is what leads many of them into a life of crime.
As Kumalo journeys to Johannesburg, he feels a growing fear
within him, but he learns that his fellow Africans living in the city are also fearful, wondering how they will feed their families and whether they will obtain work or keep the work that they have.
However, the whites are also fearful of the blacks. They remember the great Zulu wars of the past, and there is the constant reminder that they are greatly outnumbered by the blacks.
We note that the two ministers agree that the break-up of the
tribes is part of the reason for the decline of the native population.
The loss of the tribal system has resulted in the old world being broken up, but nothing has been put in its place. The black natives deserted the land that they had husbanded for centuries and which has now fallen into decay in order to go to the city to find that there is nothing there for them.
Kumalo is somewhat disappointed to learn that his sister has
become a prostitute, but he feels helpless to do anything constructive about this situation and will, therefore, rely greatly on the benevolent priest Msimangu.
Kumalo had gone to Johannesburg with the aim of finding his
dispersed family, reuniting them with one another, and restoring his family unit.