Chapter 21 Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 508

The crowd at Arthur Jarvis's funeral includes people of all of South Africa’s racial groups: whites, blacks, Indians, and the mixed-race people South Africans call “coloured.” The elder Jarvis has never before attended a church service with black people, but he does so now as he listens to the Bishop give the sermon. His words are painful, but they comfort Jarvis in a way.

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After the service, not only the whites but also the blacks, Indians, and “coloureds” approach Jarvis to offer condolences. He shakes hands with many of them. As he does so, he marvels a bit at the idea of shaking hands with black people. This is another thing he has never done before.

After the service, the Jarvises return to the home of their daughter-in-law’s family, the Harrisons. Jarvis has a drink with the elder Harrison, who says that Arthur’s death is a terrible shame. He says sadly that there may be no solution to “native” crime.

As Jarvis nods absently, Harrison makes a long series of complaints about the black population of Johannesburg. According to him, too many “natives” are coming to the city, and most of the white families in his neighborhood fail to control their black servants properly. Some servants allow total strangers to move into their quarters with them, and their white employers take no notice.

Continuing his rant, Harrison says that mine laborers are beginning to demand higher pay, a fact he considers ridiculous because the mines cannot make a profit without cheap labor. If the mines fail, all South Africa will suffer. The victims would include the laborers, who would lose their jobs and probably starve to death as a result.

Jarvis listens to this speech without comment. It generally echoes what he has always thought on these matters, but he is too worn out right now to think about it. Eventually he excuses himself, saying that he does not want to leave his wife alone.

In the morning, after learning that the police have identified the name of a murder suspect, Jarvis obtains a copy of “The Truth About Native Crime,” the essay Arthur was writing on the day of his death. Jarvis begins by looking at the last page and seeing that it stops with an unfinished sentence. This sends a wave of pain through him because he knows for certain that his son never wrote the next word.

Determined to understand his son better, Jarvis reads the essay slowly and carefully. In it, Arthur argues that white South Africans claim to be Christian but do not act like Christians. They deny fair opportunities to other human beings, and he, Arthur, cannot go along with it.  

Jarvis is moved by his son’s words, but he does not know if it is because they come from Arthur or because they are true. For now he does not try to sort out what he thinks; he just grieves. Eventually he finds his wife and gives the manuscript to her so she can read it, too.

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