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• ABSALOM KUMALO
Absalom's name recalls the rebellious son of King David in the Bible. He turns against the ideals of his father when he drifts into thievery-a life which puts him in a prison school. He does well there, but when he is released to marry his pregnant girlfriend, he drifts back to crime. Eventually he fires a gun during a robbery and kills an important white man, Arthur Jarvis. He is tried, and sentenced to death. He is meek and repentant in captivity and you see the young man he might have become. He dies wishing that he could start over. He is a case study of a black youth in the middle-he could have gone either way, but was drawn into a life of crime by social conditions he neither caused nor understood. Of course, there were thousands of young blacks like Absalom Kumalo who didn't become criminals at that time regardless of social conditions. Should Alan Paton have dealt with them here?
• MATTHEW KUMALO
The son of John Kumalo, Matthew can be seen as an outright thief and liar who laughs at his cousin for confessing to breaking into the home of Arthur Jarvis and to firing the shot that killed him. The lawyer hired by his father wins his acquittal, although he and the third boy, Johannes Pafuri, are under investigation for other crimes. While Matthew is presented in a bad light, you should try to understand the forces that worked against him. Was he born a thief and a liar? Is this the situation of a "bad seed," an incorrigible youth, or is the interpretation of Matthew's character a far more complex matter?
• ARTHUR JARVIS
Born and raised near Ndotsheni, Arthur Jarvis is a well-educated man who becomes so dedicated to social reform that he is willing to abandon a successful business to spread his beliefs. In many ways he is a surrogate (or stand-in) for Paton and his views. He is so strong an advocate of blacks as almost to be a savior, and it is ironic that he should be killed by blacks. Some readers see him as a Christ figure. In what ways might this be true?
• JAMES JARVIS
James Jarvis is Arthur Jarvis' father, the prosperous owner of High Place near Ndotsheni. He is a devoted husband, a kind, considerate man, and an employer whose workers love him. He is, however, blind to social injustice until the murder. The crime and his reading of his son's papers destroy his orderly world. He comes to believe that he must do more than live a decent personal life-that he must help rebuild what other white men have destroyed. He donates a large sum of money to a boys' club founded by his son and John Harrison, and joins with Kumalo to begin reforms in Ndotsheni. ••• MRS. LITHEBE
Mrs. Lithebe is a childless widow who rents Kumalo a room in Sophiatown. She doesn't need the rent money, but is so impressed with Kumalo that she takes in Gertrude and her son, as well as Absalom's girlfriend, for Kumalo's sake. Mrs. Lithebe finds answers to life's problems in religion and strict morals. She likes Gertrude, but instructs Absalom's girlfriend to avoid her influence. She serves as the mother the girl never had.