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The differences between Stephen Kumalo and James Jarvis are most obvious in the novel, but it is their similarities that are thematically most significant and satisfying. These two men of South Africa represent the reality of apartheid as it was practiced. Kumalo is a poor African, living in the barren and impoverished village of Ndotsheni, located symbolically in a valley. Jarvis, in contrast, is a wealthy white man living on a lovely estate, High Place, near Ixopo. High Place is located near Ndotsheni geographically, but exists culturally in another world. Stephen and James live as neighbors who never meet because of the political and cultural divide enforced by apartheid, as well as by centuries of social tradition. Neither man knows or understands the life of the other, until their lives intersect through an act of violence, and they both become grieving fathers.
The similarities between Stephen and James become increasingly evident as they are portrayed as the fathers of lost sons, one a murderer and the other murdered, yet both victims in a larger sense. Stephen and James both love and grieve for their sons. Neither understands the senselessness of Arthur Jarvis's death. Each had lost touch with his son and was unaware of the life he had been leading at the time of the crime. Both men, gentle and compassionate, feel their wives' suffering.
The most profound similarity between Stephen and James is that in their grief, they choose love over hatred. When Stephen approaches James to express his shame and sorrow over Arthur's death, James does not turn him away. Out of this meeting, a bond is formed, one man feeling deep compassion for the other. James comes down from High Place, literally, to embrace the people of Ndotsheni and continue his son's social work. Arthur's young son seeks to learn the Zulu language from the elder Stephen. The lives of Stephen and James are far more similar than different in terms of each man's humanity, and through their relationship, Patton's novel holds out hope for the future of South Africa.
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