Mr. Carmichael Mr. Carmichael is the white lawyer who defends Absalom in his murder trial. Carmichael is one of the most prominent lawyers in the country and offers his services for free.
Dubula Dubula is a black political activist who organizes the bus boycott and the building of Shanty Town. He is known as a man with a warm heart, and he is also fearless, wanting nothing for himself. He is a friend of John Kumalo and Tomlinson.
John Harrison John Harrison is the brother of Mary Jarvis, and therefore Arthur Jarvis’s brother-in-law. He admired Arthur and shared his liberal political and social views.
Mr. Harrison Mr. Harrison is Mary Jarvis’s father. His political views are conservative. He is worried about black crime and wants stiffer punishments and more police. He doesn’t think blacks have a right to form trade unions. Although his views differed from those of Arthur Jarvis, his son-in-law, he respected Arthur for his sincerity.
Absalom Kumalo Absalom Kumalo is Stephen Kumalo’s son. As a boy he left Ndotsheni for Johannesburg to search for his aunt Gertrude, but he did not return. When his father goes to search for him, he finds that Absalom has fallen into bad company. He has become a thief, and he moves often from place to place. Absalom is sent to a reformatory where he appears to do well. He is released largely because his girlfriend is pregnant, and the reformatory authorities believe he is willing to marry and support her. But Absalom soon disappears from his job, and then he commits a burglary with two of his friends, in the course of which Absalom murders Arthur Jarvis. Absalom claims he did not intend to kill Jarvis, but he is tried, found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.
Absalom’s girlfriend Absalom’s girlfriend is never named. She is sixteen years old and pregnant. She marries Absalom when he is in prison, and then goes back to Ndotsheni to live with her father-in-law and have her child.
Gertrude Kumalo Gertrude Kumalo is Stephen’s sister. She is twenty-five years younger than he is. Some time before the story begins, she went to Johannesburg with her child to look for her husband who had never returned from the mines. But Gertrude never returned from the city. Instead, she kept bad company and fell into a life of prostitution and crime. She has been imprisoned more than once. Stephen comes to rescue her and she promises to return with him to Ndotsheni. After living with Mrs. Lithebe for a while, she even expresses a desire to become a nun. But when the time comes to return to Ndotsheni, she disappears, and it is clear that she has returned to her former dissolute life.
Gertrude’s son Gertrude’s young unnamed son is a source of comfort to Stephen Kumalo during his stay in Johannesburg. The boy returns with Kumalo to Ndotsheni without his mother.
John Kumalo John Kumalo is Stephen Kumalo’s brother. Like other members of the family, he left Ndotsheni to move to Johannesburg, where he has become successful. He owns a carpentry business and makes good money. He is also, like his friends Dubula and Tomlinson, a political activist, and is known for his stirring oratory. Unfortunately, John Kumalo has been corrupted by power. He is very attached to his own possessions and he loves the adulation he receives from the crowds. He is therefore careful not to go too far in his speeches, because he is not prepared to risk going to jail. John is a complete contrast to his humble brother, and the two men quarrel just before Stephen leaves Johannesburg. Stephen is upset that John was prepared to do whatever it took to get his son acquitted on the murder charge, even if it meant supporting his son’s lies.
Matthew Kumalo Matthew Kumalo is John Kumalo’s son. He is also a friend of Absalom Kumalo, and is present in the house when Arthur Jarvis is murdered. However, he claims in court that he was not present at the crime scene, and he is acquitted.
Reverend Stephen Kumalo Reverend Stephen Kumalo is a black parson from the village of Ndotsheni. He is a humble, kind man who embodies the wisdom and stability of traditional tribal life. When he hears that his sister is in trouble, he travels to Johannesburg to help her and to search for his son. He is bewildered by life in the big city, which is so different from the life he is used to. He wants to take his family back to Ndotsheni because he realizes that in Johannesburg it is far too easy to fall into a life of crime or be corrupted in other ways. Kumalo suffers much grief during the course of the novel. He discovers that his sister is a prostitute and that his son has killed a white man. Kumalo does what he can to help. He persuades Gertrude to agree to return to Ndotsheni with him, and he spends some of the small amount of money he has on buying her new clothes. He offers his son comfort, and agrees to look after the boy’s child, which will soon be born to his pregnant girlfriend, as if it were his own. Unlike Msimangu, a priest who can move people with his deeply spiritual sermons, or his brother John, who can sway crowds with his political oratory, Stephen has no especial gift other than a simple desire to be righteous and to help his family and others wherever he can. He is, quite simply, a good man, although he is not without his faults, such as the several occasions when he lies or when, in frustration, he desires to hurt another person emotionally.
Arthur Jarvis Arthur Jarvis is the white man who is murdered by Absalom Kumalo. He was married with two young children. The details of his character are given only after his murder. A well-read man whose hero appeared to be Abraham Lincoln, Jarvis was known principally for his interest in social problems, and he argued forcefully for racial justice. He was president of the African Boys’ Club and he learned how to speak Zulu, as well as Afrikaans. He also wrote essays on social questions, such as “The Truth About Native Crime,” which he was writing moments before he died. Jarvis’s death becomes the catalyst for change in his father, who reads his son’s manuscripts and decides that something must be done to help the black population.
James Jarvis James Jarvis is the father of Arthur Jarvis. He is a prosperous farmer from Carisbrooke and a partner in a city engineering firm. He is a silent man, not given to many words. Until his son is murdered, he has given little thought to questions of racial justice, and he has a negative impression of Ndotsheni. He knows the valley is barren and the village impoverished, but he feels no desire to do anything about it. This all changes after his son’s death, when he reads his son’s manuscripts and is moved by them. He speaks warmly to Stephen Kumalo, the father of the man who murdered his son, and the two men establish a relationship of quiet mutual respect. Jarvis also decides to help Ndotsheni. He sends milk for the small children and arranges for a dam to be built to irrigate the valley. He sends Letsitsi to the village to teach the people farming, and offers to build a new church there.
Margaret Jarvis Margaret Jarvis is James Jarvis’s wife. She is one of the causes of her husband’s new desire to help black people, but she is in poor health and dies shortly before the end of the novel. Her last wish was that a new church should be built in Ndotsheni.
Mary Jarvis Mary Jarvis is Arthur Jarvis’s wife. She is devastated by her husband’s murder but tries to remain strong for the children.
Mr. Letsitsi Mr. Letsitsi is a black man of about twenty-five who is sent to Ndotsheni to teach the people how to farm.
Mrs. Lithebe Mrs. Lithebe is an old black widow who rents out the rooms in her large house to Stephen, Gertrude, and Gertrude’s son. She admires and respects Stephen.
Theophilus Msimangu Theophilus Msimangu is a noble and generous priest at the Mission House in Johannesburg. It is Msimangu who informs Stephen Kumalo that his sister Gertrude is “sick,” and this news is what brings Stephen to Johannesburg. Msimangu befriends Stephen and does everything in his power to help him. Msimangu is a fine preacher, with an ability to touch people’s hearts deeply. He is not political but preaches only of spiritual salvation. Near the end of the novel he announces that he intends to enter a monastic community, and he gives all his savings to Stephen.
Johannes Pafuri Johannes Pafuri is the young black man who takes part in the burglary that results in the murder of Arthur Jarvis. He hits a black servant over the head with an iron bar. In court, he pleads not guilty and is acquitted because of a lack of identification.
Tomlinson Tomlinson, along with Dubula and John Kumalo, is one of a trio of black political activists in Johannesburg. He is known as the most intelligent of the three.
Father Vincent Father Vincent is a young good-natured Anglican priest from England who is staying at the Mission House in Johannesburg. He consoles Kumalo after the news that Absalom has been charged with murder, and he conducts the marriage ceremony between Absalom and his girlfriend.
Young White Man The young white man is an official at the reformatory to which Absalom is sent. He tries his hardest to help the boys at the reformatory, and he is disappointed when Absalom, whom he believed would succeed, lets him down.