Paton Study Guide Answer Key short answer study guide questions

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Chapters 1-5

1. Paragraphs two and three in Chapter 1 sharply contrast. Explain the significance of these two

paragraphs in terms of the novel's central theme. (Come back to this later if you can't answer
it at first.)

Paton symbolically describes the land. As it was rich and plentiful, the tribe also flourished. As the land became overworked and mistreated, the tribal life failed. The land becomes a symbol of tribal life. Also, as the ruined land is symbolic of the native life, the good lands which hold the water are symbolic of the white man's life. There is a deep contrast between the "haves" and "have nots."

2. Identify Stephen, John, and Gertrude.

Rev. Stephen Kumalo is the main character of the novel who travels to Johannesburg in hopes of restoring order to his family. John is Stephen's brother. Gertrude is Stephen's sister.

3. "Once such a thing is opened, it cannot be shut again." Explain.

Stephen Kumalo was reluctant to open the letter in his hands. Such a letter only came with very good or very bad news. Either way, the reader would be irreversibly affected. One may also symbolically infer that once a person is made aware of a problem (such as social injustice) he cannot turn away; the problem will not go away by itself; action must be taken.

4. Why did Stephen Kumalo go to Johannesburg?

He received a letter informing him that his sister who had moved there was not well. He went to see what he could do for her. While there, he intended to try to find his brother and his son who also had gone to Johannesburg to live.

5. "The lights ... fall... on the grass and stones of a country that sleeps." Explain the symbolic

significance of this statement.

This is another reference to the symbolism used in Chapter 1. The grass could symbolically be whites and the stones could symbolically be natives. Light traditionally symbolizes education or justice; in this case, perhaps it is public awareness. Perhaps all together these images suggest the beginning of a public awareness by both natives and whites that the problems of social injustice cannot be ignored anymore.

6. What does "Umfundisi" mean?

Umfundisi means pastor or reverend.
7. "The journey had begun. And now the fear back again ...." What fears did Kumalo have?

He had fear of the unknown, fear of a city where boys were killed crossing the street, fear of Gertrude's sickness, fear for his son's well-being, and "deep down the fear of a man who lives in a world not made for him, whose own world is slipping away, dying, being destroyed...."

8. What happened to Kumalo when he first arrived in Johannesburg?

A young man pretended to help him buy his bus ticket but stole his money.

9. Identify Msimangu and Mrs. Lithebe.

Theophilus Msimangu is a reverend who sent for Kumalo and helps him in Johannesburg. Mrs. Lithebe is the woman who rents Kumalo a room.

10. Describe Gertrude's sickness.

She is morally corrupt. She makes and sells liquor, lives with prostitutes (and we assume she is one), and she has been in prison. It is not a physical sickness that attracts Msimangu's attention, but a moral one.

11. Why is Gertrude's sickness upsetting to Kumalo?

Being a man of God, immorality in any form is distasteful; however, having his own sister behave this way is truly upsetting. He would hope that his own family would behave in a more God-like fashion.

12. What is Kumalo's brother John doing in Johannesburg?

He has turned into a politician, speaking in public for the cause of the natives.

13. "The tragedy is not that things are broken. The tragedy is that they are not mended again." Explain what Msimangu meant. (Ch. 5)

It is bad enough that there is such injustice in South Africa, though one can see how it came about. The wrong comes in that the injustices have not been eliminated since they have been recognized.

14. "It is fear that rules this land." Who fears whom?

Whites fear the natives and the natives fear the whites.

Chapters 6 & 7

  1. Describe Kumalo's meeting with his sister (when he finds her in Johannesburg).

He confronts her with each of his questions—why she didn't write, if she found her husband, that she was in prison, etc. She answers simply and truthfully. Their first minutes together seem cool—not at all the warm embrace one might think brother and sister might share. The relationship doesn't begin to warm up until she agrees to leave Johannesburg with Kumalo.

2. Kumalo bought Gertrude and the child new clothes. Why is that symbolically


The new clothes symbolize the putting on of a new life.

3. Describe Kumalo's first meeting with his brother John in Johannesburg.

Kumalo confronts him just as he did his sister. Notice, though, that John's answers come with long qualifiers and explanations (unlike Gertrude's). John defends his actions and accuses the church of not carrying out its responsibilities towards its people. John also provides information about Absolom’s whereabouts.

4. What is Msimangu's one hope for his country?

He hopes that one day "white men and black men, desiring neither power or money, but desiring only the good of their country, come together to work for it."

Chapters 8-10

1. Why did Dubula ask Kumalo and Msimangu to walk instead of taking a bus?

The natives (who used the bus system) were protesting a fare increase and were refusing to ride the bus lines.

2. Why is the government more afraid of Dubula than Tomlinson or John Kumalo?

Tomlinson has the brains, John has the voice, but Dubula has the heart.

3. What did Mrs. Mkize tell them about Absalom?

She said he had been there but had left. He had been stealing goods and was in bad company. She thought the taxi driver Hlabeni might know of Absalom's whereabouts.

4. What is the point of Chapter 9 in relationship to the novel's themes?

Chapter 9 is used to emphasize, elaborate on and personalize the terrible conditions under which the natives of South Africa were living.

5. When Kumalo finally reached Pimville, where Absalom was supposed to be living, what did he find?

He found a young native girl with whom Absalom was supposed to be living but whom he had apparently abandoned.

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