Chapter 22 Summary

Eventually the day comes for the trial of the three boys who are accused of murdering Arthur Jarvis. The people who attend the trial are quiet, well-dressed, and respectful toward the judge. People of all races may attend the court session, but the courtroom is divided along racial lines. “Europeans”—all white people, whether or not they have ever set foot in Europe—sit on one side of the room. “Non-Europeans”—black, Indian, and “coloured” people—sit on the other side.

People whisper a bit when the three defendants are brought into the room. Two of them, Matthew Kumalo and Johannes Pafuri, plead not guilty. The third, Absalom Kumalo, wants to plead guilty to “culpable homicide” but not to murder because he shot his victim without intending to kill. The prosecutor objects and says that the boy has to plead guilty or not guilty to the crime he has been charged with. Absalom confers with his lawyer and then pleads not guilty.

The rest of the chapter is almost all dialogue. Under questioning by the prosecutor, Absalom explains in detail how he and his friends planned to rob a house they believed to be empty. When Arthur Jarvis turned out to be at home, Absalom fired his gun on accident because he was afraid. He swears he ever intended to kill anyone.

At this point, the judge interrupts the questioning to ask Absalom why he carried a gun at all if he never intended to shoot anyone. Absalom claims he thought he might need to scare someone, and the judge asks why the gun had bullets in it if it was not intended to be used. Absalom explains that the gun was loaded when he bought it, and he never unloaded it. 

The judge turns the questioning back to the prosecutor, who asks if Absalom claims the other two defendants are lying when they say they were not with him on the day of the murder. Absalom says that they are lying.

Continuing his story about the crime, Absalom tells the prosecutor that he buried the gun, and then he spent some time praying. He resolved to turn himself in, but he did not do it because he was afraid. When the police caught him, he confessed immediately and told them where to find the murder weapon.

Now, on the witness stand, Absalom explains that he never wants to tell any more lies or do anything bad ever again. When the prosecutor asks why, Absalom says he wants to repent because he is in trouble.

Kumalo and Jarvis both attend the trial. Jarvis is not aware of the black priest, but Kumalo recognizes the father of the murdered white man. The sight makes Kumalo shaky and ashamed. He looks at Jarvis only once and tries not to look again.