Apartheid stands as the novel’s primary social concern. With his subtle and sympathetic treatment of this particular issue, Paton established a tradition in South African literature that is mirrored in the works of J. M. Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer. Absalom Kumalo’s murder of Arthur Jarvis does not lessen the readers’ sympathy for those oppressed by apartheid; rather, it suggests the complexity of evils spawned by such oppression. Readers will certainly want to compare the social climate in South Africa as Paton describes it with the current struggle of South African blacks for equality.
Because its main character is an Anglican priest, the novel inevitably deals with religion. The narrative reflects the irony that the only education available to Stephen Kumalo was a heavy dose of Bible study from Anglican missionaries, whites who brought to South African blacks the religion of their oppressors, and whose system of apartheid mocks the principles of Christianity. Rather than espouse a particular dogma, Paton presents the religious ideals of love and forgiveness as necessary components of any solution to the racial divisiveness of South Africa.