Cry, the Beloved Country Summary and Analysis
by Alan Paton
Book I, Chapters 7-12
Gertrude helps Mrs. Lithebe around the house as Stephen plays with the little boy. Msimangu takes Kumalo to see his brother, John, who has grown fat and sits "with his hands on his knees like a chief." John at first does not recognize Stephen, but soon they speak privately. John admits that his wife Esther has left him, and he is living with another woman. John tells Stephen that back in Ndotsheni, he was subject to the chief, but in Johannesburg he has his own business: he may not be free in Johannesburg, but he is at least free of the chief. John claims that it is here in Johannesburg that the new society is being built. John speaks loudly, as if he were giving a speech. Stephen asks about Absalom, but John says that Absalom and his son had a room in Alexandra and were working for a factory, Doornfontein Textiles Company. Msimangu says that the problems between the whites and blacks will only be solved when both groups do not desire power nor money, but only desire the good of their country.
Stephen Kumalo is unsuccessful at Doornfontein, but they learn that Absalom had been friends with a workman, Dhlamini, who tells them that he last heard that Absalom was staying with a Mrs. Ndlela in Sophiatown. They find Mrs. Ndlela, and she gives them a forwarding address, care of Mrs. Mkize in Alexandra. Mrs. Ndlela admits that Absalom left because she and her husband did not like Absalom's friends, but she claims to have seen nothing.
John Kumalo provides a stark contrast to his brother Stephen, representing a different and wholly modern set of values that clash with Stephen's insistence on conservatism and family. John Kumalo rejects any sense of conventional morality, dismissing ideas of fidelity and finding religious beliefs to be antiquated, and more importantly he approaches the changes in South African society as an improvement. In contrast to Stephen, he believes that the tribe is a dangerous and autocratic body that was necessarily destroyed; living under white rule John knows that he is not free, but John believes himself at least subject to a less oppressive authority than a chief. Paton even makes the notable comparison between John and a chief; in essence, John has taken on the authority that he now derides. In his values and opinions John thus comes to represent modernism in Cry, the Beloved Country, the archetype of the successful businessman and politician.
With the exception of John Kumalo's hard realism, the discussion of the political situation in South Africa remains problematic. While John Kumalo's contented state is easily explained, since he holds one of the few positions of power among the blacks of Johannesburg, the political prescriptions given by Msimangu seem deluded and impossible, as he rests his hope for the nation on a communal rejection of self-interest and ambition.
The search for Absalom begins to take a disturbing turn in this chapter, as Kumalo and Msimangu travel from location to location in order to locate him, but find only a different forwarding address at each turn. This creates the sense that Absalom lives an aimless life, while the mention of Mrs. Ndlela's disapproval of his friends serves as a bit of foreshadowing and promotes the idea that Absalom may be involved in unsavory activities that have kept him away from his family.
Msimangu and Kumalo set off to take the bus over to Alexandra, but on the way a man stops them to persuade them not to take the bus, for there is a boycott until the price of bus fare is brought down to four-pence again. This man is the famous Dubula, part of the great trio of black Johannesburg politics: John Kumalo is the voice, Dubula is the heart, Tomlinson is the brains. Msimangu and Kumalo start on the eleven mile walk, adhering to the boycott. Msimangu tells a story about how a white woman knocked on a man's door after she had been assaulted and raped. They reach the house of Mrs. Mkize, who says that Absalom must have been gone a year now. She is obviously afraid, so they leave, but Msimangu tells Kumalo to get a refreshment and he turns back to the house. He tells Mrs. Mkize that he is not from the police, and is there simply to help Kumalo find his son, and he swears that no harm will come of her for telling what she has to tell. Mrs. Mkize admits that Absalom and his friends would often bring back clothes and watches and money in the middle of the night. She tells him to talk to the taxi-driver Hlabeni, who was friends with Absalom. Msimangu and Kumalo find this taxi driver, and pay him eleven shillings to take them back to Johannesburg. Before they go, Msimangu asks Hlabeni about Absalom, and he says that he heard that Absalom went to Orlando and lives amongst the squatters in Shanty Town. On the way back to Johannesburg, Msimangu and Kumalo watch people riding bicycles and walking because they cannot take the bus. They watch a car driven by a white man that the police stop because he is carrying black passengers. The white man confronts the police and dares them to take him to court. Kumalo smiles at this, for such an act is not lightly done, but Msimangu claims that this kindness "beats" him.
This chapter continues the pattern of previous chapters, alternating between details concerning Johannesburg politics and plot points concerning the search for Absalom Kumalo. The boycott of the bus service is perhaps the most significant of these political developments, for Paton locates the major problems with the situation of blacks in South Africa within the economic sphere rather than the sphere of political rights. Yet once again, he finds the plight of whites in South Africa worthy of equal if not greater attention than the condition of blacks. Yet another story about crime in South Africa focuses on a white as a victim of blacks, while the paramount example of heroism in this chapter involves the action of a white man as he defies the police and aids the blacks in their boycott. The reaction of Kumalo to this incident is one of unabashed joy and approval, while Msimangu takes a more ambiguous reaction. Paton gives no interpretation of his cryptic comment "it beats me," allowing for multiple interpretations of Msimangu's opinion over the incident.
The condition of Absalom Kumalo becomes more serious as this chapter progresses, as Kumalo and Msimangu travel from one location to another in search of the missing son, at each point learning more disturbing details concerning Absalom's life. The incident with Mrs. Mkize bolsters earlier comments by Mrs. Ndlela as it becomes more obvious that Absalom is involved in a life of crime. These crimes are serious, as demonstrated by Mrs. Mkize's terrified reaction to questions. Paton demonstrates that Absalom's actions are serious and grave by this reaction; terrible things may happen to her as a result of Absalom's actions, and considering her distant position to Absalom, his crimes must be great indeed.
The dynamic between Stephen Kumalo and Reverend Msimangu becomes fully realized in this chapter, the most full expression of the relationship that the two men have. It is Msimangu who is worldly and diplomatic, able to deal with the terrified Mrs. Mkize, while Stephen Kumalo has a more simplistic and single-minded attitude and cannot consider all of the ramifications of his actions because of his preoccupation with his quest for his son.
Johannesburg is the destination for everyone, white or black, who must search for a job or hide a pregnancy or escape for some reason. Finding housing in Johannesburg is next to impossible, and the waiting list for houses includes several thousand names. In Orlando, a Shanty Town has been built nearly overnight. In this Shanty Town, children suffer from sickness, and Dubula must arrange for doctors. When white men first come to Shanty Town, they do so to take photographs, but when more blacks come to Shanty Town from other areas, white men return out of anger and the police drive the people away.
Alan Paton departs from the quest of Stephen Kumalo in this chapter to describe the conditions of Shanty Town and the way in which it came about. The Shanty Town arises mostly out of the prohibitive housing conditions in Johannesburg as well as the intense poverty of its inhabitants, but the efforts of politicians such as Dubula make life at Shanty Town more palatable. For the first time, Paton departs from his sensitive treatment of the whites in South Africa to indict them for their actions; in blaming the whites for the police action that forces the removal of the Shanty Town population, Paton takes his first step toward a definitive political statement.
While Kumalo waits for Msimangu to take him to Shanty Town, he spends time with Gertrude and her boy. Gertrude cannot speak to Stephen about her problems, but can discuss them with Mrs. Lithebe. Stephen thus turns to the small boy for enjoyment, but even in these moments of satisfaction he remembers his son.
Msimangu takes Kumalo to Shanty Town, and shows him a building that he credits to Dubula's work. He points out nurses that have been trained by white nurses, and mentions the recent enrollment of blacks in the European University of the Witwatersrand for medical school. A nurse points them to Mrs. Hlatshwayos, who tells them that Absalom stayed with her because he had no place to go, but the magistrate sent him to the reformatory. Kumalo and Msimangu thus visit the reformatory, where a white man tells them that Absalom was given leave partially because of good behavior, partially because he got a girl pregnant. Absalom is not married, but everything is arranged for a marriage. He is now in Pimville. The white man takes them to Pimville, and they meet the girl, who admits that Absalom went to Springs on Saturday and has not yet returned. Msimangu warns Kumalo that he can do nothing, but Kumalo says that her child will be his grandchild. Msimangu replies that he does not know that. The white man learns that Absalom has not been at work this week. After they leave, Msimangu apologizes for his behavior toward Kumalo, and Kumalo takes this as an understanding that they should see the girl again.
The search for Absalom Kumalo continues but remains fruitless as Stephen Kumalo and Msimangu go from contact to contact. The extension of this search allows Paton to give a broader view of the conditions in South Africa, as Kumalo receives a full tour of the various areas of Johannesburg. Shanty Town is among the worst of the areas, an impoverished region where the homeless remain, yet Paton steps back from the political critique that marked the previous chapter and focuses on the few improvements in Shanty Town. Instead of dwelling on the poverty of the region, Paton details the new training of black nurses and the enrollment of blacks in European medical schools and also lauds Dubula for effecting the construction of a new building in the region.
The white worker at the reformatory is a more significant character in the novel than his lack of a name might imply. He is representative of the white characters that Kumalo meets on his journeys through Johannesburg; kind, helpful and respectful toward Kumalo, and even approaching courage at a later point in the novel. This is important because it demonstrates Paton's biased view of South Africa; he details the poverty and the problems of the nation, but virtually ignores the racism that is one of the causes of these problems.
The meeting between Kumalo, Msimangu and the girl serves to demonstrate both Kumalo's unerring kindness and sense of duty and bolster Msimangu's greater skepticism. Kumalo immediately takes responsibility for the girl, even though he cannot be sure that she is pregnant with Absalom's child, while Msimangu suggests that Kumalo operate with a great degree of doubt. This marks the great contrast between the rural pastor and the urban clergyman.
The news concerning Absalom continues to foreshadow a disastrous fate for the errant son. While Absalom acted well at the reformatory, the very fact that he was sentenced to a reformatory does not bode well for him, while the fact that he has been missing suggest the existence of problems that will drive the plot of the second stage of the novel.
Msimangu tells Kumalo that the man at the reformatory will do a better search for Absalom than he can, and that he must go to Ezenzeleni, the place of the blind, to hold a service for them, but he will return two days later. At dinner at the Mission House, there is news of another murder: a well-known city engineer was shot, supposedly by natives. The murder victim, Arthur Jarvis, was a courageous young man according to one priest: he was the President of the African Boys' Club, and the son of James Jarvis of Carisbrooke. Arthur Jarvis was renowned for his interest in social problems and for his efforts for the welfare of the non-European sections of the community.
The murder of Arthur Jarvis is the central issue of this chapter, and proves to be the turning point of the novel. The significance of this event cannot be underestimated, even as Paton leaves the actual connection between Jarvis and Kumalo somewhat ambiguous at this point. However, it is important to note the foreshadowing in this chapter. Throughout Cry, the Beloved Country, Paton pays little attention to developing many of the characters of the novel, even failing to give names to many of the more significant characters. That he devotes significant space to these events and the history of Arthur Jarvis suggests that his fate plays an important role in the novel.
The murdered Arthur Jarvis is yet another example of the noble European characters who pervade Cry, the Beloved Country. It is significant to note that it is not a notorious racist who was killed by natives, but a renowned social reformer. This negates any possibility for any difficult political content: the murder of Arthur Jarvis becomes bleakly ironic, but also becomes so senseless that no character can justify it by any means. Paton thus creates an opportunity to critique the white treatment of native South Africans, but then cuts off any possibility for such a discussion.
This chapter takes place during a conference in which a Mr. McLaren reads a resolution stating that "we shall always have native crime to fear until the native people of this country have worthy purposes to inspire them and worthy goals to work for." A Mr. de Villiers suggests that increased schooling facilities would cause a decrease in juvenile delinquency. Some lament the cutting up of South African into separate areas where white can live without black and black without white. There are hundreds of cries, but there is also the question of what should be done when these cries conflict. Whites fear not only the loss of their possessions, but the loss of their superiority.
Mrs. Ndlela finds Msimangu and claims that the police have been to her, wanting to know about Absalom. She wonders whether she did something wrong, but he reassures her that she was right to uphold the law. Msimangu relates this to Kumalo, but neither have any idea why they would want to see Absalom. The police retrace Kumalo's journey for Absalom, from Shanty Town to Pimville. Kumalo sees the girl once more, and asks if the police have been there, but she does not know why they wanted him either. She admits that the matter seemed heavy.
Alan Paton uses the first section of this chapter to discuss the problems of South Africa through the description of a conference in which these problems are discussed. Several of these problems are only peripheral to the actual conflicts of the novel. The most obvious of these dilemmas is the one of apartheid, which had not been instituted at the time of the novel's publication but was obviously discussed. However, Paton discusses these problems from a purely white perspective, most significantly in the case of native crime. There is no discussion of crime against the natives, only concerns over the status and safety of whites.
Paton continues to suggest the fate of Absalom in this chapter, in which Kumalo learns that the police have been searching for Absalom as well. This greater implies a connection between the murder of Arthur Jarvis and the location of Absalom. Absalom's culpability in the murder of Arthur Jarvis is certainly consistent with his behavior and the reason why the young man is so elusive; he is not merely a transient, but instead is hiding in order to escape the authorities.
Cry, the Beloved Country Essays and Related Content
- Cry, the Beloved Country: Major Themes
- Cry, the Beloved Country: Essays
- Cry, the Beloved Country: Questions
- Cry, the Beloved Country: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Alan Paton: Biography
- Cry, the Beloved Country Summary
- About Cry, the Beloved Country
- Character List
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Book I, Chapters 1-6
- Summary and Analysis of Book I, Chapters 7-12
- Summary and Analysis of Book I, Chapters 13-17
- Summary and Analysis of Book II, Chapters 18-24
- Summary and Analysis of Book II, Chapters 25-29
- Summary and Analysis of Book III, Chapters 30-36
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