Kumalo and the young man go to see Father Vincent, and he tells them that he has a lawyer in mind and that he will also help with Absalom’s marriage. The young man leaves, and Kumalo speaks about his grief to Father Vincent. He is especially upset that he and his wife had no idea what was happening to their son in Johannesburg and that he has only found out now that it is too late. He is also wounded by his son’s apparent lack of remorse. Father Vincent is pained by Kumalo’s statements, but he reminds Kumalo that at least his sorrow has replaced his fear and that his son may well still be able to repent for his great evil. Kumalo allows himself a rare moment of bitterness, but Father Vincent refuses to let him remain cynical, insisting that Kumalo keep up the rituals of his religion in order to make true faith return.

Analysis — Book I: Chapters 13–15

In these chapters, which form the climax of the novel, the Kumalo family becomes a model for coping with great suffering, and Paton uses Kumalo’s experiences to show how grief can prompt a range of emotional responses. At times, we see Kumalo so smitten by sorrow that he is unable to function and simply shuts down. Kumalo, rendered completely mute and unable to do anything but nod, temporarily comes to a complete halt when he first hears the news about his son, and he seems to have great difficulty holding on to his sanity. Absalom is similarly unable to function. Pressed for answers in the prison’s visiting room, he mostly nods, cries, or says he doesn’t know. In these instances, Kumalo and his son epitomize grief as a kind of paralysis, during which even the everyday functions of the body, like talking or moving, are impossible.

On the other hand, the novel suggests various ways that individuals can derive meaning from sorrow and find solace in it. Christianity plays an important role in this process. Both Msimangu and Father Vincent comfort Kumalo with words from the Bible. Father Vincent reminds him that the ways of God are secret and suggests to him that he must find meaning by showing his compassion for others, rather than by trying to understand why Absalom has gone astray. The ability to accept the idea that there is a divine plan for the universe leads to a sense of order that provides refuge when everyday life seems disorderly or cruel. Comforting others provides a similar refuge. Kumalo has always gotten strength from helping others, as evidenced by his rejuvenation when he finds and rescues Gertrude. In Chapter 15, Father Vincent confirms the idea that helping others can bring relief to one’s own soul. Kumalo’s suffering is so unbearable for Father Vincent to see that he wonders when the old man’s painful ruminations will cease, looks away, and can barely sit still. Father Vincent also has his moment of paralysis while the two men sit together in silence, but he recovers his sense of well-being by reminding Kumalo of God’s mercy and helping him keep his faith and find solace.

Throughout these three chapters, Kumalo is frequently left alone, and the scenes paint a somewhat negative portrait of solitude. In Ezenzeleni’s garden, Kumalo is unable to remain hopeful, even at the prospect of returning with his newfound knowledge of ways to heal Ndotsheni. In the mission, he rejects Father Vincent’s suggestion that he pray, dismissing it so bitterly that Father Vincent is forced to sit the old parson down for a priestly intervention. Most poignant of all is Kumalo’s abandonment at the prison gates. The scene is set with great drama, with the young man driving off angrily in one direction and John setting off in another, leaving Kumalo conspicuously alone.