Chapter 20 Summary

The following day, Jarvis visits Arthur’s empty house. In the study, he finds an enormous collection of books. There’s a whole case of books about Abraham Lincoln and another whole case of books about South African history. There’s even a whole case of books in Afrikaans, a language related to Dutch that is widely spoken by white South Africans whose ancestors came from Belgium or other parts of mainland Europe. The Jarvises are descended from English forebears, so Arthur spoke English as his native language—but people say he felt a strong desire to speak as many of South Africa’s many languages as possible.

Jarvis looks through the papers on his son’s desk and finds a number of invitations to events his son will never be able to attend. There are other papers, too, many of them in Arthur's handwriting. Among them is a single page from an essay about how white South Africans should and should not manage the affairs of their country. Jarvis sits down to read it.

In this unfinished essay, the now-deceased Arthur Jarvis argues that “it was permissible” for Europeans hundreds of years ago to settle South Africa, develop industry, and hire the local people as laborers. However, Arthur goes on to argue that “it is not permissible” to keep black South Africans subservient on purpose. He particularly argues against several practices that were common in South Africa in the 1940s: refusing to educate black South Africans, relegating black tribes to tiny parcels of the poorest land, and forcing black mine laborers to live separately from their families. According to Arthur, it is clear that such choices keep people in poverty, damage the tribes’ ability to function, and destroy families. In his opinion, it is neither moral nor humane for one race of people to keep another downtrodden in this way.

The elder Jarvis reads to the end of this page, which ends on an unfinished sentence. Unfortunately, Jarvis cannot find the next page anywhere, nor does he know for sure whether the next page was ever written. The ideas interest him, partly because they make him think about his own country in a way that is new to him. However, the ideas are appealing largely because they came from the mind of his son. Yet again, he feels amazed that his own offspring was such a stranger to him.

After sitting at the desk a while longer, Jarvis decides to leave. On his way out, he slips one of the Abraham Lincoln books into his pocket. He walks downstairs and leaves through the kitchen, where a bloodstain from the murder remains on the floor. For a moment he stares at it and thinks about how his son looked as a small boy.

When Jarvis leaves the house, he has to pass a policeman who is standing guard at the door. The guard salutes Jarvis to show his respect.