Chapter 15 Summary

A few hours later, the reformatory director visits Kumalo and apologizes for losing his temper. At first, it is difficult for Kumalo to hear and trust this apology from a white man. But the reformatory director persists. He is clearly wracked with guilt about freeing the boy who committed such a heinous murder. It will, no doubt, harm his efforts to help other boys in the future, and it will reflect poorly on his judgment. However, he knows that none of this is Kumalo’s fault.

Kumalo accepts the apology, and the two men go together to speak to Father Vincent, who says that finding a lawyer is definitely a good idea. Someone will need to convince the jury of Absalom’s claim that he acted out of fear and never planned to commit murder. A lawyer will also be helpful if Absalom’s accomplices lie and say they were never on the scene of the crime.   

Kumalo is still worried about his son’s unmarried status and its effect on his future grandchild. He asks Father Vincent for help arranging a wedding for Absalom and his pregnant girlfriend, and Father Vincent says he will do all he can to make it happen.

After the reformatory director leaves, Kumalo talks to Father Vincent about his feelings. Kumalo explains that he arrived in Johannesburg full of worries, and his feelings have grown increasingly worse ever since. After the news about Arthur Jarvis’s murder, those fears became unbearable. Now that Absalom is found and the fears have been confirmed, Kumalo feels completely destroyed.

Father Vincent tells Kumalo that “sorrow is better than fear. For fear impoverishes always, but sorrow may enrich.” To illustrate this, he creates a metaphor: when storms come, people are afraid that their homes will be reduced to rubble—and nothing can be done about that fear. But after those homes are destroyed, it is possible to rebuild and heal. There is, at least, something to do. In this sense, life is a little better.

After thinking this over, Kumalo says he is too old to start over. He says that God “has turned” from him, but Father Vincent assures him that this is not true. Understanding that Kumalo hopes his son will repent, Father Vincent emphasizes that there is hope as long as Absalom remains alive. Kumalo answers bitterly that his son seems unreachable: Absalom says he is sorry if he understands that others want him to do so, but it does not appear he is really sorry. He cries, but it does not appear he grieves for anyone except himself.

Father Vincent promises that he and Msimangu will both speak to Absalom and do all they can for him. In the meantime, Father Vincent urges Kumalo not to dwell on his own hopelessness or to try to understand why terrible things happen. Instead, he must focus on others. Then, perhaps, Kumalo will begin to see some hope returned to his life.