Cry, the Beloved Country Summary and Analysis
by Alan Paton
Book II, Chapters 25-29
James and Margaret Jarvis visit Barbara Smith, one of Margaret's nieces, on a day on which court is not in session. Margaret and Barbara discuss Ixopo. While Jarvis reads, there is a knock on the door, and he finds Stephen Kumalo there. Kumalo is surprised to see Jarvis, and sits down on the step as if he were ill or starving. Kumalo begins to tremble, and Jarvis believes that he is ill. Jarvis goes to get water for Kumalo, and when he returns Kumalo brings a paper from Sibeko for his daughter, the Smith's servant. Jarvis tells Kumalo that he recognizes him, but he does not know the relationship between them. Kumalo admits that it is a very heavy thing between them, and he is afraid to tell, for it is the heaviest thing of all their years. Kumalo finally admits that it was his son who killed Arthur. Jarvis tells Kumalo that there is no anger in him. The Smith daughter returns, and tells Kumalo that Sibeko's daughter was fired because she started to brew liquor on her room and was sent to jail. She says that she does not know and does not care where the girl is, but when Jarvis translates this to Kumalo in Zulu, he leaves out the fact that she does not care. Kumalo leaves respectfully, and when he leaves Jarvis admits to his wife that he is disturbed because of something that came out of the past.
It is the letter from Sibeko that serves as the impetus for the first direct meeting between Stephen Kumalo and James Jarvis and leads to a sense of reconciliation for the two men. The confrontation between the two men is surprisingly tender; instead of portraying great discomfort between the two men as they have this chance meeting, Paton quickly dismisses the possibility of any animosity between the two men.
The behavior of Stephen Kumalo throughout this chapter is part of the impetus for James Jarvis's kindness toward him. Alan Paton makes clear that Stephen Kumalo feels great shame and weakness as he meets James Jarvis, who initially believes that the old pastor's behavior is a sign of severe illness. Faced with a man in such a lamentable condition, James Jarvis can only act with pity and tenderness toward a man so consumed with pain and guilt over his son's actions. Yet Paton does not make Stephen Kumalo merely the object of pity; Kumalo does bring himself to admit to Jarvis that it was his son who killed Arthur, thus demonstrating his own courage and honesty.
The best demonstration of the compassion that James Jarvis shows for Stephen Kumalo occurs when he inquires about Sibeko's daughter. Jarvis respectfully omits Ms. Smith's comment that she doesn't care what happened to Sibeko's daughter. This is significant for two reasons: this fully demonstrates that Jarvis bears no ill will toward Kumalo, for he makes this small gesture even after he knows the reason behind Kumalo's behavior toward him and, as Paton will make clear later, this demonstrates Jarvis's kindness to Kumalo (who actually could translate the comment himself).
Although James Jarvis is not angry with Stephen Kumalo over the action of his son, the confrontation between the two men still disturbs Jarvis. This is significant, for it serves as an additional impetus for Jarvis's reformation.
John Kumalo gives a speech in the public square as Dubula and Tomlinson look on. The policemen hear the speech and worry that John Kumalo is dangerous. Kumalo asks "is it wrong to ask more money? We get little enough. It is only our share that we ask, enough to keep our wives and our families from starvation." He continues to ask, "is it we that must be kept poor so that others may stay rich?" The native policemen are alert, knowing that at the first sign of disorder, John Kumalo will be brought down and put in the van and taken elsewhere. John Kumalo does care whether he goes to prison, for in prison there is no applause, so he maintains the peace. Stephen Kumalo and Msimangu listen to John Kumalo, and Stephen admits that his brother can play with even his emotions as if he were a child. Msimangu says that it is a relief that John Kumalo is corrupt, for if he were not corrupt, he could plunge the country into bloodshed. He has been corrupted by his possessions, and fears their loss, thus will not stir disorder. Jarvis is also at the rally and listens to John Kumalo speak.
An expected strike comes and goes, never progressing beyond the mines. There is a bit of trouble at Driefontein, where the police were called in to drive the black miners into the mine, but now all is quiet.
The speech that John Kumalo gives in the public square serves to demonstrate several aspects of this character's personality. Most obviously, the speech establishes the great sway and influence that John Kumalo has among the residents of Johannesburg. A speaker of powerful force, John Kumalo can easily use his influence for whatever reasons he desires. This correlates to the trial of his son and Absalom Kumalo, for it suggests that John Kumalo can use similar tactics to secure his son's release at any expense. Yet the speech also suggests that Kumalo is no legitimate reformer; he has too great a concern for personal gain to risk his own safety or financial security. John Kumalo will negotiate between exciting the crowd and keeping them just subdued enough so that the police will not take action against him. Paton here most explicitly portrays John Kumalo as corrupt. His concerns are entirely personal, despite his claims that he works for the benefit of South Africa. In contrast, the motives of reformers such as Arthur Jarvis are much more noble, untainted by the search for glory and power.
Mrs. Lithebe and Gertrude argue over Gertrude's behavior; Mrs. Lithebe claims that Gertrude associates with the wrong type of people, who laugh idly and carelessly and will never help her, and warns her not to hurt her brother any further. Gertrude claims that she will be glad to leave Johannesburg, for she has known nothing but trouble there. There is news of another murder: a European householder was shot dead by a native housebreaker. Later, Gertrude suggests to Mrs. Lithebe that she wants to become a nun. Mrs. Lithebe claps her hands in happiness, but says that she should think of the boy. Gertrude wishes to become a nun because she is a weak woman and it might quell her desire. Gertrude goes to the pregnant girl and asks if she would care for her boy if Gertrude were to become a nun, and the girl eagerly agrees.
Alan Paton places Gertrude Kumalo at the center of this chapter, which foreshadows that her brother's efforts on her behalf may be in vain and that she is destined to return to her errant ways. Paton portrays Gertrude as a woman caught within the horrors of Johannesburg and desperate for an escape from her own weaknesses. The idea that she will become a nun, while commended by Mrs. Lithebe, is an altogether foolish idea that shows Gertrude's desperation. She cares so little for her son that she is willing to leave custody of him to the pregnant girl so that she can enter a convent.
Once again, Paton includes another example of crime in South Africa in which a black murders a white. By this point, the inclusion of another crime of this manner strikes not simply a jarring note but an altogether unpleasant one. The underlying theme of native crime against Europeans betrays the overall themes of equality and Christian charity that inform the novel while placing the center of South Africa's troubles in an incredibly wrong location.
The judge issues his verdict in the case. He states that Absalom has not sought to deny his guilt, and that there is no conclusive proof that Matthew Kumalo and Johannes Pafuri were present at the time, despite Mpiring's identification of Pafuri. The judge concludes that the guilt of Matthew Kumalo and Pafuri has not been established, but he holds Absalom wholly responsible for the murder, citing the facts of the case and refuting Absalom's contention that he did not intend to kill Arthur Jarvis. The judge considers any mitigating factors, and finds that there are no extenuating circumstances. Finally he asks Absalom if he has anything to say, to which he replies "I killed this man, but I did not mean to kill him, only I was afraid." The judge sentences Absalom to death by hanging. When court is dismissed, the young white man who has helped Kumalo and Msimangu breaks tradition and exits the court with the black men, an action that is not lightly done.
This chapter is largely expository, fulfilling the plot developments that Paton has foreshadowed since the beginning of the trial. As established, the question of Absalom Kumalo's guilt had been well-established and the main question of the trial was whether he would receive mercy. Since the blame falls wholly on Absalom, with the two other defendants protesting their innocence, he receives no mercy from the court. There is the implication that an admission of guilt for the other two defendants would mitigate the sentence that Absalom receives; thus Matthew Kumalo and Johannes Pafuri sacrifice Absalom Kumalo in order to save themselves.
Once again, Alan Paton exalts the behavior of a white man on behalf of blacks in South Africa by having the young man from the reformatory exit the court on the side of the blacks. It is an action "not lightly done," a phrase that recalls the action of the white man on the road to Alexandra.
Father Vincent, Kumalo, Gertrude and her son, the girl and Msimangu visit Absalom in prison. Father Vincent performs the wedding ceremony, marrying Absalom and the girl. Absalom tells his father to give his regards to his mother, and tells him about the money that Absalom has saved for his child. Absalom requests that the child, if a boy, be named Peter. Absalom says that Matthew Kumalo and Pafuri are also in prison, for there is yet another case against them. Kumalo tells his son to have courage, and Absalom cries out of fear over the hanging. As they leave Absalom, the girl tells Stephen Kumalo that she is now his daughter, and he forces himself to smile at her.
After returning from the prison, Kumalo goes to his brother's shop. John says that it is a good thing that Gertrude is going with him, because Johannesburg is not a place for a woman alone. He praises Stephen for his kindness toward Gertrude. Stephen says that he has one more thing to discuss with John, but he is not there to reproach him. John becomes indignant, thinking that Stephen should have no reason to reproach him, but Stephen remedies the situation by saying that the only one who should judge John is God. Stephen asks John about his son, and John says that he will bring his son back to him when his legal troubles are finished. John speaks about politics, and says that history teaches that the men who do the work cannot be kept down forever, and that he hates injustice (but not the white man). Wishing to harm his brother, Stephen tells John that he has heard dangerous things, and that John is being watched. Perhaps, he adds, a friend might have been sent to the shop to deceive him. John laments having such a friend, then Stephen adds that Absalom had friends like that. John orders his brother out of the shop, and kicks over the table in front of him. Stephen has to leave the shop, and John locks him out. Stephen is humiliated and ashamed because he did not come for this purpose, but only to tell his brother that power corrupts and that a man who fights for justice must himself be cleansed and purified.
Jarvis bids farewell to Harrison and his son. Harrison tells Jarvis that the Court made a mess of the case, and that they should have hammered away at Mkize. Jarvis gives John Harrison an envelope to open when he is gone. John Harrison reads it later: it requests that John do all the things that Arthur wanted to do at what could be called the Arthur Jarvis club, and includes a check for ten thousand dollars.
Msimangu hosts a party at Mrs. Lithebe's home in which he praises her for her kindness to Kumalo and his family. After the party, Msimangu tells Kumalo that he is forsaking the world and all possessions, but has saved a little money which he would like to give to him for all of the new duties he has taken up. He tells Kumalo that as soon as the Governor-General-in-Council makes a decision concerning mercy for Absalom, Father Vincent will let him know. He also tells Kumalo that if Absalom is sentenced to death, either he or Father Vincent will go to Pretoria that day for the execution. Kumalo groans and repents for the quarrel with his brother, and decides to write his brother a letter. When checking on everybody before turning in for the night, Kumalo finds that the girl and the little boy are there, but Gertrude is gone.
Although the sentencing of Absalom Kumalo is complete, the progression of his story is not yet complete. There remains some hope for clemency for Absalom, but more importantly, Paton suggests the possibility for some greater redemption for the character. The marriage between Absalom and the young girl is a significant expression of this redemption, as he prepares for the girl and his child to live without him. The final step for Absalom's redemption is as yet incomplete; while accepting responsibility for his actions, Absalom has not yet accepted the inevitability of his death and resists his fate.
The confrontation between John and Stephen Kumalo completes the conflict between the two characters, as Stephen betrays his contempt for his brother's actions and John refuses to accept any responsibility for the situation. The quick response that John gives to Stephen's suggestion that he might judge him suggests that John is aware of some guilt that he should feel, but out of arrogance and selfishness refuses to acknowledge. In this chapter, Paton places John Kumalo beyond redemption: his concerns are entirely personal, and he will take any measures necessary to secure his own personal status. Yet this chapter also serves as retribution for John Kumalo; Stephen Kumalo finds the one weakness in his brother, concern over his power and status, and removes his security in that feeling.
Although Stephen Kumalo issues this retribution to his brother, Paton refuses to portray the protagonist as a man bent on revenge. The confrontation between the Kumalo brothers occurs out of impulse, and Paton makes clear that Stephen Kumalo never intended to visit his brother in order to hurt him. Paton further redeems Stephen Kumalo by showing that he feels guilt and embarrassment over the conflict; he takes no pleasure from the pain that he causes his brother, no matter how justified the retribution may be, and even seeks penitence for his action.
This chapter fulfills the shift in James Jarvis from a man unconcerned with the plight of blacks to a social activist. Jarvis takes his first major step to continue the work of his son by establishing the Arthur Jarvis club, while John Harrison fulfills his role as the heir to the leadership role once fulfilled by the murdered Jarvis. However, this is merely a beginning for James Jarvis; Paton foreshadows the final chapters of the novel, which will be devoted to the continued works of James Jarvis to improving the quality of life of blacks in the region of Ixopo.
This chapter finally serves as a resolution to the story of many of the characters in Johannesburg. Gertrude fulfills her foreshadowed fate by disappearing, presumably to join a convent, while Msimangu, affected by the struggle for justice in which he has taken part, decides to forsake the secular world and donate his savings to Stephen Kumalo. Most importantly, the chapter allows for Stephen Kumalo's departure from Johannesburg without a definitive resolution to his son's fate. Stephen Kumalo can do no more for his son, and the fate of Absalom will become a secondary concern to be detailed second-hand. While the question of whether Absalom will be executed will remain a concern through the final chapters, the possibility of mercy will become secondary to more pressing concerns in Ixopo.
Cry, the Beloved Country Essays and Related Content
- Cry, the Beloved Country: Major Themes
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- Alan Paton: Biography
- Cry, the Beloved Country Summary
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- 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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