Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
The Reverend Stephen Kumalo
The Reverend Stephen Kumalo (kew-MAH-loh), a Zulu who is an educated man and an Anglican priest. He lives in the country and is unused to the ways of the city and its people. Even so, he goes to Johannesburg to help his sister and find his son. He does his best, which is not enough, to help his relatives. When his son is executed, he cries out for help—for his land and his people as well as for his son.
Gertrude, the clergyman’s sister. She has become a prostitute and dealer in illegal liquor in Johannesburg.
John, the clergyman’s brother in Johannesburg, a practical man and a successful merchant. As a native politician, he is disturbed by the police and kept under their surveillance. He is a selfish man; he has also abandoned the Christian faith.
Absalom, the clergyman’s son. He is a country boy ruined by white ways in the city. He drinks, commits adultery, and steals, at last killing a man who is an activist for the natives, trying to help them improve their condition. Found guilty of the crime, Absalom is sentenced to hang. His one act of goodness is to marry the woman who carries his unborn child.
Arthur Jarvis, Absalom’s victim, a young white man who works hard to help the natives improve their lot in Africa. There is irony in his death at the hands of one of the natives he wants to spend his life helping.
Msimangu (ihm-see-MAHN-gew), a native Anglican clergyman in Johannesburg. He is a good man who tries to help Stephen Kumalo find his people and understand them.
Mr. Jarvis, Arthur Jarvis’ father. He carries on his son’s work for the natives by bringing milk for their children, farm machinery, an agricultural demonstrator, good seed, and a dam to provide water for irrigation. He even becomes Kumalo’s friend after they have both lost their sons, one a murderer and the other his victim.