Cry, the Beloved Country Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The title of Cry, the Beloved Country echoes throughout the book. It first appears as a lament after the senseless murder of Arthur Jarvis, a courageous young white South African, a dedicated, enlightened fighter for justice for African blacks. His death forms an irony central to Paton’s argument, an irony best stated by the Reverend Msimangu, who fears that when the whites finally turn to “loving,” blacks will already have turned irreconcilably to “hating.” Jarvis was shot by a frightened Zulu youth (one of three would-be robbers) while writing an impassioned treatise arguing that the white South African’s destruction of the tribal system and its failure to offer anything positive in its place was the reason that black youths resorted to crime. The dead man’s moving, sympathetic analyses of white-black relationships gone awry, read posthumously by his father to understand the stranger who was his son, provides clear intellectual statements of what Paton suggests dramatically through sad, lyric passages bemoaning the black experience. In a dramatic rendering of the black African heart, Paton uses multiple voices: “Cry for the broken tribe, for the law and the custom gone,” cry for the dead and bereaved, but most of all “Cry, the beloved country” for the violence, death, separation, and suffering “not yet at an end.” The “cry” continues through descriptions of the injustices and daily humiliations of apartheid, the senseless cries and the anguish deeply felt.

The cry encapsulates the fears of a rural people who have lost a traditional way of life and who move among strangers in a disorienting urban wasteland, its rules and customs not their own. Paton effectively communicates general fear and despair through individual fear and despair—the brother whose sister turns prostitute, the father whose wayward son missteps, the mother whose infant dies from starvation and disease. His lines, “Cry . . . for the unborn . . . inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply,” verbalize another poignant thematic concern: the contrast between a land of poetic beauty “lovely beyond any singing of it” and the ugliness of the overgrazed, scorched, eroded valleys of the black reserves, where the titihoya cries no more and the red hills stand desolate, their “red blood” streaming away. Paton draws parallels between earth and humankind, with the ravaged soil no longer able to support the men and women who stream into the cities on a tide of blood.

Despite shifting perspectives and a dramatic rendering of multiple and dissonant voices, the novel centers on the Reverend Stephen Kumalo, a simple, devout rural Zulu clergyman from Ndotsheni, and his disturbing contact with Johannesburg, the boomtown where all roads lead. His eyes record the breakdown of community and values, the disintegration of a people. The story begins with Kumalo receiving a disturbing letter from a fellow clergyman, Msimangu, urging him to come to Johannesburg to assist his “sick” sister, Gertrude. The trip is costly, but Kumalo decides to make the sacrifice and perhaps, at the same time, find news of his son and of his brother, both of whom disappeared into the shantytowns of Johannesburg long before.

Kumalo’s first quest ends quickly, and, with the help of his new friend Msimangu, Kumalo rescues his sister and her daughter from the squalor and shame of prostitution and alcohol. His second quest, for his son, proves far more difficult. During it, he rescues from potential disaster his son’s girlfriend, pregnant with his grandchild. He also finds his missing brother, a self-important man who has rejected his roots and whose stirring oratory gives him great destructive powers, powers he is too cowardly to use fully against the white establishment he privately denounces. He has no real loyalties and is easily corrupted, as he later proves when his own son is accused as an accessory to murder. Everywhere Kumalo hears disturbing tales of his son but fails to find him. His search provides Paton with the opportunity to explore Johannesburg and its people. Caught up in a bus strike, Kumalo is persuaded against public transportation by those committed to change. He witnesses the forces that built a shantytown overnight. He shares in the pain and loss of the city’s black citizens. He hears of exploitation in the gold mines but also experiences the kindness of white strangers who go out of their way to give him a lift, who maintain model schools for blind natives, and who take pride in the good wrought in the “reformed” juvenile reformatories. When Kumalo finally finds his son, he is too late to save him, for young Absalom Kumalo has unquestionably murdered Arthur Jarvis out of fear and greed. His trial is swift but just, and, despite the counsel of a white attorney who works “pro deo” (for God), he is condemned to death—a sad young man in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong friends. His words of repentance are empty in the face of his deed and his fear. His father tries to redeem what he can, arranging a marriage to legitimize his grandchild-to-be, taking his new daughter-in-law’s child home with him, but he cannot help a son infected by city ways and needs.

The first part of the book depends on the relationship between the two clerics, on the kindness and understanding between them as they deal with a changing world in which they feel increasingly alienated. There is strength in their hopes and dignity in their efforts to cope. Msimangu tells Kumalo, “Something is happening that no Bishop can stop.” Ultimately, Msimangu opts for the monastic life and, in a last act of goodwill, gives Kumalo his entire savings. Kumalo, in turn, returns home to face parishioners with his son’s misdeeds.

The second part of the book depends on the relationship between James Jarvis, the father of the murdered, and the father of the murderer, Stephen Kumalo. Kumalo is appalled that his son has killed a man dedicated to improving conditions for black Africans. Neither the parish members nor James Jarvis blames the father. At first, Jarvis wants revenge. After understanding the depth of Kumalo’s suffering and studying his own son’s life and writings, however, he realizes that the best memorial is to practice his dead son’s beliefs, to take the first steps to account for past injustices. Inspired by a grandson very much like his dead son, Jarvis sends milk to hungry children, assigns an agricultural demonstrator to restore soil fertility, replaces bad seed with good, and begins building a dam to assure land restoration. After a wet night with Kumalo in the leaky wooden church, he vows to build a new one. Critics find Jarvis’s generosity unrealistic, but Paton modeled him on a true benefactor, Acting Prime Minister Jan Hofineyr, who unselfishly endowed programs to assist the education and training of black Africans and whose biography Paton wrote.

Paton makes convincing the unspoken communication between the two saddened fathers. His novel ends hopefully, with both fathers vowing to fight the moral paralysis that grips their land and to build constructively on the ruins of tragedy. Jarvis’s grandson learns the Zulu language and empathizes with its speakers. Jarvis is committed to transforming his valley and to assisting the natives who share it. Kumalo goes into the mountains to await his son’s dawn execution. His final cry is a lament for the lost, wasted lives of Africa’s wayward sons; but it is also a cry of hope for a future of bettered relationships, of revitalized land, of a dawn for black Africans. Kumalo sees darkness still engulfing the land—“the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear”—but believes the dawn of black emancipation must come as the morning dawn “has come for a thousand centuries, never failing.” Cry, the Beloved Country is a paean to Africa: its misery, its suffering, its beauty, and its potential.

Paton offers no simple solutions, no positive answers, only individual courage, personal responsibility, and an uncertain hope that someday blacks and whites, untouched by greed, will work together for the good of a country that is theirs together. His well-rounded characters are complex individuals with strengths and weaknesses. Kumalo may be named for the saintly martyr Stephen, but his anger and urge to punish sometimes overpower his Christian charity. Paton condemns a social order destructive of human values and life but also emphasizes individual differences that make one person choose right, no matter how difficult, and another choose wrong, no matter how much help, encouragement, or support he or she receives.

Cry, the Beloved Country Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The letter brings fear to the hearts of the Reverend Stephen Kumalo and his wife. To a Zulu, letters are rare and frightening. Once opened, they can never be closed again or their contents forgotten. Kumalo waits until he can control his fear before he opens the letter from Johannesburg telling him that his sister is sick and needs his help. The trip will be costly for a poor Zulu clergyman, but he has to go. Perhaps there he can also find their son Absalom, who was not heard from since he left the village. Stephen and his wife know in their hearts that, in Johannesburg, Absalom succumbed to the evil resulting from the white man’s breaking up the tribes and compelling black men to work in the mines.

Taking their small savings, Kumalo journeys to the city. He goes first to the mission and meets Msimangu, who wrote the letter. Msimangu is also a clergyman, working for his people in the city as Kumalo works in the country. He sorrowfully tells Kumalo that his sister Gertrude is a prostitute and a dealer in illegal liquor. She and her child are impoverished, even though she once made much money from her trade. Kumalo locates Gertrude, with the help of Msimangu, and finds her willing to go with him to the temporary rooms he found with a good woman. When his business is finished, she and the child will go with him to his home, away from temptation.

Before looking for his son, Kumalo visits his brother John, a successful merchant and a politician who is under surveillance by the police for his ability to stir up the blacks. John is discreet; he takes no chance of being arrested and losing his business. Many of the black leaders sacrifice everything to help their people, but not John. Expediency is his only thought. He left the church and turns a deaf ear to his brother’s pleas that he return to a holier life.

Kumalo begins his search for Absalom. With Msimangu, he searches everywhere. Each place they visit adds to his fear, for it becomes clear from their investigation that Absalom is engaged in stealing, drinking, and worse. Often they walk for miles, for the black leaders are urging their people to boycott the buses in order to get the fares reduced. Kumalo learns that Absalom was in the company of John’s son, and both of them were in and out of trouble. The trail leads to a reformatory, but Absalom was dismissed shortly before because of his good behavior. The white teacher of the reformatory joins Kumalo in his search, because the boy’s behavior reflects on his training. Next, Kumalo finds a girl who, soon to bear Absalom’s child, waits to marry him. The old man knows at once that if Absalom is not found, the girl must return to the hills with him and make her home there.

At last, he finds Absalom in prison. Absalom, John’s son, and another boy robbed and killed Arthur Jarvis, a white man who befriended the blacks. Brokenhearted, the old man talks with his son. He can tell that Absalom does not truly repent but only says the right things out of fear. His one ray of goodness is his desire to marry the young woman in order to give his unborn child a name. Kumalo weeps for his son, but he weeps also for the wife and children, the father and mother of the slain man.

At the trial, Absalom is defended by a lawyer found by Kumalo’s friends. The plea is that the murder was not planned and that the boy shot in fear. The judge, a good man, weighs all the evidence and pronounces a verdict of guilty; the punishment, death by hanging. John’s son and the other boy are acquitted for lack of evidence. The verdict is a gross miscarriage of justice, but John is more powerful than Kumalo.

Before Kumalo leaves Johannesburg, he arranges for the marriage between his son and the girl. Then he starts home, taking the girl and Gertrude’s child with him. Gertrude disappears the night before they are to leave, but no one knows where she went. She talked of becoming a nun, but Kumalo fears that she went back to her old life; Gertrude likes laughter and fun.

At home, the people welcome their minister, showering love and blessings upon him. The crops are poor that season, and people are starving. Kumalo prays for his people and works for them. He knows that they must learn to use the land wisely, but he is helpless to guide them. He goes to their chief to ask for cooperation, but the chief is concerned only for himself and his family.

Hope comes to the people in the form of a child. He is the grandchild of Mr. Jarvis, the father of the man Absalom murdered. Mr. Jarvis always helped the black people, and, after his son’s death, he gave all of his time to the work started by his murdered son. He sends milk for the children and brings in an agricultural demonstrator to help the people restore fertility to the soil. Mr. Jarvis builds a dam and sends for good seed. His grandchild becomes Kumalo’s friend; through him, the white man learns of the needs of the people. Kumalo, whose son killed his benefactor’s son, is at first ashamed to face Mr. Jarvis. When they meet, few words are exchanged, but each reads the heart of the other and understands the sorrow and grief there.

The bishop comes and tells Kumalo that it would be best for him to leave the hills and the valley, to go where his son’s crime is unknown. Kumalo grieves and stands silent. Before the bishop leaves, a letter comes from Mr. Jarvis, thanking Kumalo for his friendship and offering to build his people a new church. The bishop feels ashamed.

When the day comes for Absalom’s execution, Kumalo goes into the mountains. He went there before when struggling with fear. Mr. Jarvis, knowing the torment that is in his soul, bids him to go in peace. When the dawn comes, Kumalo cries out for his son. He cries, too, for his land and his people. When will dawn come for them?

Cry, the Beloved Country Overview

Cry, the Beloved Country was the forerunner of a whole body of subsequent South African literature protesting apartheid. Like many...

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Cry, the Beloved Country Summary

Book I Summary

Book I
Cry, the Beloved Country consists of three sections, Books I, II, and III, each presenting a...

(The entire section is 888 words.)

Book II Summary

Book II
Book II is presented from the point of view of James Jarvis, the father of the murdered man. Jarvis lives in...

(The entire section is 434 words.)

Book III Summary

Book III
Book III is told from the point of view of both Kumalo and Jarvis, who have returned to their respective...

(The entire section is 117 words.)

Cry, the Beloved Country Chapter Summaries

Chapter 1 Summary

Alan Paton begins the first book of Cry, the Beloved Country with a poetic description of the rural land near the town of Ixopo in South Africa.

The hills around Ixopo are full of beauty. A person can look in all directions and see more hills, or mountains, or rivers. Standing there, one knows that the beauty goes on as far as the land goes—all the way to the sea. One also knows that this land has supported African people for many thousands of years.

As this description continues, the author emphasizes the health of the land at the tops of the hills. The people here do not raise too many animals or build too many fires, so their land does not suffer from erosion. The grass grows so densely that...

(The entire section is 428 words.)

Chapter 2 Summary

A little girl runs through the small South African village of Ndotsheni. Somewhat fearfully, she knocks at the home of Reverend Stephen Kumalo. When he answers the door, she gives him a letter and explains that the white man at the store asked her to deliver it. The reverend thanks her and, when she does not immediately leave, tells her she can ask his wife for something to eat.

The girl leaves the room, and Kumalo stares at the envelope. It is stained and dirty, which shows it has made a long journey. The postmark says it comes from Johannesburg, an enormous city in the center of South Africa. Because the people of Ndotsheni find they cannot make a living off the land anymore, many of them leave home. Most seek work in...

(The entire section is 594 words.)

Chapter 3 Summary

A friend walks with Kumalo to Carisbrooke, the nearest town that has a train station. Kumalo can see a beautiful view from the platform, but he barely notices it. Instead he sits worrying about the trip ahead.

Kumalo worries first about money, because the train ticket costs a great deal, and his travel and lodging and medical bills may mount up quickly. If Gertrude is so sick that she needs to come back to Ndotsheni, her ticket home will cost money too.

Kumalo is also anxious about the stories he’s heard about Johannesburg. People say the city is so big, you can walk up and down different streets forever without ever seeing same place more than once. They say the buses are not like the bus in Ndotsheni,...

(The entire section is 561 words.)

Chapter 4 Summary

Kumalo rides the train through some areas where the land is very bad and some areas where it is a little better. He passes small white towns and huge black slums. The journey lasts a couple of days, and he has to change trains in cities called Ixopo and Pietermaritzburg. The final train runs on electricity, and Kumalo marvels at the sight of such a large vehicle drawing power from “metal ropes” instead of an engine.

On this final train, Kumalo does not know anyone, and he does not try to maintain the vain façade of a seasoned traveler. Instead he humbly asks questions of the people around him. When they pass the mines that surround Johannesburg, a group of mine workers explains what it is like to work there. They...

(The entire section is 585 words.)

Chapter 5 Summary

Msimangu invites Kumalo to stay for dinner and shows him a modern restroom where he can wash up. Kumalo marvels at the sink that gives out hot and cold water, and he is a little alarmed by the loud rushing of water in the toilet. Luckily he has “heard of such things before,” so he knows he has not broken it.

There are many priests at the dinner, and Kumalo is careful to copy everyone else’s behavior with the many plates and forks. He sits beside an English minister with white skin who asks questions about Ndotsheni and the area around it. 

[Kumalo] told them...of the sickness of the land...how the tribe was broken, and the house broken, and the man broken; how when they went away,...

(The entire section is 558 words.)

Chapter 6 Summary

The next morning, Msimangu takes Kumalo to Claremont to find Gertrude. On the bus ride there, Msimangu explains that Claremont is a rough slum, and that its problems are compounded by the fact that there are a couple of white neighborhoods nearby. This, he says, leads to fighting between black and white hoodlums. And there are many hoodlums in Claremont; a large number of the children run wild in the streets without ever going to school.

During the bus ride, Msimangu also points out the building where a newspaper for black residents of Johannesburg, the Bantu Press, is published. The all-white government tightly controls the information published in this newspaper, so it "does not say all that could be said." According...

(The entire section is 500 words.)

Chapter 7 Summary

Gertrude and her son are dressed in filthy rags, so Kumalo buys them new clothes. As he does so, he worries about spending so much money. On his small salary of eight pounds per month, saving money is nearly impossible. By the end of this journey, he may well be down to nothing. He wishes idly that Gertrude had a little money left over from “her sad occupation,” but she saved nothing.

The day after they find Gertrude, Msimangu and Kumalo pay a visit to John Kumalo. The brothers have not seen each other in many years, so John Kumalo does not immediately recognize the Reverend Stephen Kumalo. However, when Stephen makes John understand who he is, John welcomes him and invites him to tea. 

During the...

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Chapter 8 Summary

The following morning, Kumalo and Msimangu set out again to look for Absalom. Today they are headed to Alexandra, a black slum just outside the city limits of Johannesburg. Alexandra is dangerous and overcrowded, but black people are legally permitted to own property there. This makes it an attractive place to live, because in most other areas it is only possible to rent.

Kumalo and Msimangu take a bus to the center of Johannesburg, where they intend to board the bus to Alexandra. However, an activist named Dubula stops them and urges them to find another mode of transportation. He explains that a boycott is underway to protest a recent increase in bus fares.

When Kumalo protests that the eleven miles to...

(The entire section is 675 words.)

Chapter 9 Summary

In Chapter 9, Cry, the Beloved Country shifts briefly away from Kumalo and his story. Instead, the author speaks in the voices of the many people who move to Johannesburg from rural villages all over South Africa. They come because their crops fail, or their bills get too high, or their families grow too large to divide the land further, or they face any of a thousand other challenges.

Black South Africans are not allowed to live in the white neighborhoods, and the black neighborhoods are overcrowded. White officials are slow to add more housing to accommodate newcomers, so some newcomers have to wait years to be assigned a place to live. In the meantime, they rent rooms from the people who already have homes....

(The entire section is 553 words.)

Chapter 10 Summary

Kumalo spends his evenings with his sister Gertrude and her little boy. He does not know how to talk to Gertrude, with whom he was never close, but he enjoys the company of the child. The boy often plays with cheap wooden blocks or listens, uncomprehending but serious, to Kumalo’s stories about Ndotsheni. Sometimes Gertrude steps into the doorway to listen to the stories, too, and Kumalo is glad.

Kumalo and Msimangu go to Shanty Town, the place built by Dubula and the desperate newcomers to Johannesburg. Absalom is no longer living there, but they have no trouble getting directions to the shack where he stayed for a while. The woman who lives at the place says that Absalom was arrested and sent to a reformatory for...

(The entire section is 435 words.)

Chapter 11 Summary

When Kumalo and Msimangu return home for the day, everyone is in an uproar over the latest news: a white man, Mr. Arthur Jarvis, has been murdered by black burglars in his home. This murder is big news not only because crime and violence are at the forefront of people's minds lately, but also because Mr. Jarvis was a passionate “fighter for justice.” Msimangu talks about a club Mr. Jarvis ran for black boys, and Father Vincent mentions that Mr. Jarvis was a faithful religious man in an era when most people have given up their belief in God.

To Kumalo's surprise, he realizes that he knew Arthur Jarvis. The dead man was the son of James Jarvis, a white farmer in Carisbrooke, the town in the hills above Ndotsheni....

(The entire section is 424 words.)

Chapter 12 Summary

In Chapter 12, the author of Cry, the Beloved Country speaks in the voices of white South Africans who are afraid of the violence in their country. At the time the novel was written, these white South Africans held all the political power and made all the laws, even though black South Africans outnumbered them by a large margin. The best jobs and the best property were explicitly reserved for whites. This meant that black people were stuck in poverty with no way out.

All of the white speakers in this chapter are aware of this situation, but they have different ideas about what to do. Some regard all “natives” as criminals, whereas others tend to pity “natives” and advocate kindness. However, the reader...

(The entire section is 625 words.)

Chapter 13 Summary

There are no more clues for Kumalo to follow, and there is nothing for him to do but wait and find out what happens next. Msimangu has a prior obligation to go preach a sermon at a place called Ezenzeleni, where white missionaries run a support program for blind black people. He invites Kumalo to come and see the place, suggesting that it will do the old man good to rest and focus on something positive for a change.

When they arrive at Ezenzelei, Kumalo withdraws from the other people and just sits in the sun, looking at the beautiful view. He knows that it is ridiculous to fear that his son will turn out to be the culprit in the horrifying Jarvis crime. But his fear persists.

For hours, Kumalo just sits...

(The entire section is 411 words.)

Chapter 14 Summary

Back at Mrs. Lithebe’s house, Gertrude manages to sell her few possessions. She gets a fair price, and she announces her intention to buy a new coat and shoes. Kumalo agrees that this is a good idea.

Msimangu and the white director of the reformatory arrive at the house, and they both look grim. Kumalo takes them into his room, where they tell him that his son, Absalom, has confessed to the murder of Arthur Jarvis. According to Absalom, two friends, including his cousin, accompanied him during the robbery that led to the murder.

This news confirms Kumalo’s worst suspicions. The first thing he does is visit his brother, John, to pass the information on. After their brief conversation, both brothers go to...

(The entire section is 502 words.)

Chapter 15 Summary

A few hours later, the reformatory director visits Kumalo and apologizes for losing his temper. At first, it is difficult for Kumalo to hear and trust this apology from a white man. But the reformatory director persists. He is clearly wracked with guilt about freeing the boy who committed such a heinous murder. It will, no doubt, harm his efforts to help other boys in the future, and it will reflect poorly on his judgment. However, he knows that none of this is Kumalo’s fault.

Kumalo accepts the apology, and the two men go together to speak to Father Vincent, who says that finding a lawyer is definitely a good idea. Someone will need to convince the jury of Absalom’s claim that he acted out of fear and never planned...

(The entire section is 495 words.)

Chapter 16 Summary

Kumalo is learning how to get around in Johannesburg, so he goes alone to visit the girl who is pregnant with Absalom’s child. When he arrives at her house, he informs her that Absalom is in prison for “the most terrible deed a man can do”—killing a white man. The girl begins to cry.

As the conversation continues, Kumalo asks if the girl wants to marry Absalom. She says she will, but she phrases it in the customary Zulu way, essentially saying that she will do whatever she is told is right. This answer frustrates Kumalo, who presses her to tell him what she actually wants. “I do not wish to take you into my family if you are unwilling,” he says.

This statement fills the girl with hope. It is...

(The entire section is 580 words.)

Chapter 17 Summary

Mrs. Lithebe, the woman with whom Kumalo and his sister Gertrude are staying, does not normally let strangers live in her home. She accepted Kumalo only because he was a priest, and Gertrude because it was right to get her out of her former life. Over time, Mrs. Lithebe has developed a great respect for the priest and a tentative friendship with his sister. However, Mrs. Lithebe worries about Kumalo these days. He always wears an expression of “suffering” on his face, and he seems to be aging before her eyes.

Today Kumalo seems particularly quiet and upset. After brooding alone for a long time, he approaches Mrs. Lithebe to ask a favor. He explains about Absalom’s pregnant girlfriend and asks if it would be...

(The entire section is 515 words.)

Chapter 18 Summary

Book Two of Cry, the Beloved Country begins the same way Book One begins, with a detailed description of the rolling, fertile hills of rural South Africa. This time, however, the author makes it clear that a white farmer named James Jarvis owns the fertile area at the tops of the hills.

Jarvis’s land may be fertile, but it is suffering from a drought. The soil is too dry to plow properly, but he orders a man named Thomas to keep trying. In the meantime, Jarvis climbs higher into the hills; looks down that the eroded, overgrazed lands in the valley; and worries. As he sees it, “the natives” need to be taught better farming practices so that they will treat the land better. But educated people tend not to...

(The entire section is 428 words.)

Chapter 19 Summary

John Harrison, the brother of Arthur Jarvis’s widow, meets Mr. and Mrs. Jarvis at the airport in Johannesburg. He takes them to his family’s suburban home, where they hug Mary, their daughter-in-law, and cry together. Then they all pile into the car and go to the mortuary, where they are allowed to see the murdered man’s body even though it is past midnight.

Afterward, Jarvis has a drink with Mary’s father, and the two of them discuss the fact that Arthur put so much effort into solving what they call “the native question”—the question of what to do about the problematic relationship between black and white in South Africa. The two men marvel at the idea that a man could put so much energy and faith into...

(The entire section is 425 words.)

Chapter 20 Summary

The following day, Jarvis visits Arthur’s empty house. In the study, he finds an enormous collection of books. There’s a whole case of books about Abraham Lincoln and another whole case of books about South African history. There’s even a whole case of books in Afrikaans, a language related to Dutch that is widely spoken by white South Africans whose ancestors came from Belgium or other parts of mainland Europe. The Jarvises are descended from English forebears, so Arthur spoke English as his native language—but people say he felt a strong desire to speak as many of South Africa’s many languages as possible.

Jarvis looks through the papers on his son’s desk and finds a number of invitations to events his son...

(The entire section is 489 words.)

Chapter 21 Summary

The crowd at Arthur Jarvis's funeral includes people of all of South Africa’s racial groups: whites, blacks, Indians, and the mixed-race people South Africans call “coloured.” The elder Jarvis has never before attended a church service with black people, but he does so now as he listens to the Bishop give the sermon. His words are painful, but they comfort Jarvis in a way.

After the service, not only the whites but also the blacks, Indians, and “coloureds” approach Jarvis to offer condolences. He shakes hands with many of them. As he does so, he marvels a bit at the idea of shaking hands with black people. This is another thing he has never done before.

After the service, the Jarvises return to the...

(The entire section is 508 words.)

Chapter 22 Summary

Eventually the day comes for the trial of the three boys who are accused of murdering Arthur Jarvis. The people who attend the trial are quiet, well-dressed, and respectful toward the judge. People of all races may attend the court session, but the courtroom is divided along racial lines. “Europeans”—all white people, whether or not they have ever set foot in Europe—sit on one side of the room. “Non-Europeans”—black, Indian, and “coloured” people—sit on the other side.

People whisper a bit when the three defendants are brought into the room. Two of them, Matthew Kumalo and Johannes Pafuri, plead not guilty. The third, Absalom Kumalo, wants to plead guilty to “culpable homicide” but not to murder...

(The entire section is 469 words.)

Chapter 23 Summary

In Johannesburg, those who are not directly affected by the murder of Arthur Jarvis have already forgotten it. The newspapers are full of another story: the discovery of gold in a rural town called Odendaalsrust. In this chapter, the author adopts the voices of the white investors who get rich off this new discovery of gold.

These white investors claim that the gold is having an excellent effect on South Africa’s economy. They boast that a man can buy shares in the new mine efforts at a low price and then sell them for a much higher price later in the day. Most investors get scared and sell out too quickly, but still they make an excellent profit off of the discovery of gold in this place they have never seen. This...

(The entire section is 469 words.)

Chapter 24 Summary

Jarvis returns to his son’s empty house. He enters through the kitchen, forces himself to walk past the awful bloodstain on the floor, and goes upstairs to the office. There he examines the bookshelves and the pictures again. He sits down at the desk, which is still covered with invitations and papers.

Today Jarvis rifles through Arthur’s desk drawers. At first he only finds office supplies, but eventually he finds a collection of essays. Most, but not all, concern the social structure and history of South Africa, but some of Arthur's writings display other interests as well. One paper is on South African birds, and another is on his country’s historic relationship with India.

Eventually Jarvis picks...

(The entire section is 427 words.)

Chapter 25 Summary

One day when court is not in session, Mr. and Mrs. Jarvis visit their niece on the outskirts of Johannesburg. After they all spend a bit of time together, Jarvis’s wife and niece decide to go out shopping. He remains at his niece's house on his own.

While the women are gone, Jarvis hears a knock on the back door. He answers to find a tiny “native” priest in worn-out clothing. The author's description makes it clear that the priest is Kumalo, but Jarvis does not immediately recognize him. Kumalo looks badly startled and begins shaking all over. He has to sit down on the front step. Several times he tries to get up, but he cannot do it.

Jarvis is torn between concern and annoyance at the behavior of this...

(The entire section is 483 words.)

Chapter 26 Summary

The mine laborers are holding a protest, demanding higher wages. John Kumalo, who is known for his beautiful speaking voice, shouts that black laborers only want to benefit from the latest discovery of gold in South Africa. Surely they, too, have a claim to some of South Africa’s resources.

In the crowd, protestors shout and cheer, and the police watch over them. One officer is nervous, but the other has heard John Kumalo speak before. He says confidently that John Kumalo is a coward. He always gets the crowd just a little excited, and then he backs off. Clearly he understands that he might go to jail, lose his business, or even get murdered if he incited an actual rebellion. He is unwilling to do any of those things,...

(The entire section is 521 words.)

Chapter 27 Summary

Mrs. Lithebe lectures Gertrude about spending time with the wrong kinds of people. As Gertrude listens sullenly, Mrs. Lithebe urges her to be “a good woman” and avoid bad companions. Above all, the older woman emphasizes that everyone must try to live up to Kumalo, who “has surly suffered enough.”

This is roughly the same speech that Mrs. Lithebe has already given the girl who is going to marry Absalom, but Gertrude does not accept the lecture quite so readily. She protests that she did nothing wrong, and she also blames Johannesburg for being a bad influence on her. She says it will be easier to be good when she gets back to Ndotsheni.

During this conversation, a neighbor enters with a newspaper. On...

(The entire section is 431 words.)

Chapter 28 Summary

In the courtroom on the final day of the trial, everyone stands up respectfully as the judge enters. The crowd is even quieter than usual. There is an expectant feeling in the air as everyone awaits the verdict. Solemnly, the judge unfolds a prepared statement. He reads in English, and an interpreter translates his words into Zulu so everyone present can understand.

At the beginning of his statement, the judge notes that Absalom Kumalo has admitted to shooting Arthur Jarvis. Absalom has clearly been truthful about his own actions, but the other accused young men have contested his claim that they were his accomplices. The judge outlines all the facts he has heard about the matter, and he ultimately says that it is not...

(The entire section is 419 words.)

Chapter 29 Summary

One day, Kumalo, Msimangu, Father Vincent, Gertrude, and the girl all go to the prison to visit Absalom. At first, Absalom looks hopeful, as if he thinks his family might have found a way to save him. His father tells him it is time for the wedding, and Absalom's hopeful expression disappears.

After that, everyone stands around awkwardly as they wait for the guards to take them to the prison chapel. Nobody can think of anything to say, so they repeatedly greet each other in the formal Zulu way by asking after each other’s health. Absalom keeps saying that he is healthy, even though everyone knows he will soon be hanged.

Father Vincent performs the marriage ceremony quickly, and Absalom and the girl both...

(The entire section is 670 words.)

Chapter 30 Summary

Kumalo makes the long journey home with his pregnant daughter-in-law and Gertrude’s child. On the way, the girl is excited and eager to hear about the places they pass. On the final train, they begin to meet people Kumalo knows. Many of these people ask about the girl and the child. He has not yet decided how to answer them, so he gets out his Bible and reads it to show that he does not want to chat.

At the train station, Kumalo’s wife and his friend are waiting to meet the train. Kumalo greets them and then tells his wife the latest news about their son’s death sentence and Gertrude’s last-minute disappearance. His wife bears the bad news well and then greets the child, telling him that she will be his mother...

(The entire section is 560 words.)

Chapter 31 Summary

Kumalo learned a great deal during his journey, and he has become convinced that the suffering land and broken tribe cannot heal on their own. The drought has grown so bad that people—especially small children—are starving to death. Kumalo decides that he can no longer sit by and just watch this happen; he must take action.

There are two powerful men in Ndotsheni: the chief and the headmaster of the school. The chief is not much of a leader, mainly because the white people have destroyed the real leaders and replaced them with ineffectual ones who can be trusted not to rebel:

It was a thing the white men had done, knocked these chiefs down, and put them up again, to hold the pieces...

(The entire section is 682 words.)

Chapter 32 Summary

Kumalo and his wife wait anxiously to find out if the government will show mercy and overturn the judge’s order of execution. Eventually a letter arrives from the lawyer in Johannesburg, and it says the sentence has not been overturned. Absalom will be hanged to death on the fifteenth of the month.

After reading the note, Kumalo sits grieving for two hours. Eventually his wife tells him to let her read the letter too. She grieves also, but she recovers more quickly. She tells Kumalo that he may not brood. People need him, so he has to go on with life.

Letters also arrive from Absalom and Msimangu. Absalom asks if his child is born yet, and he says repeatedly that he wishes he could go back to the way...

(The entire section is 679 words.)

Chapter 33 Summary

The sticks stay in the ground for a long time. Absalom’s wife settles into her new life, and the young children grow healthier now that they have milk to drink. Kumalo continues to worry about the land, but he is beginning to think that Jarvis will find a way to save it.

After a long time, the little white boy returns to the village and tells Kumalo he wants another Zulu lesson. Kumalo brings the child inside and lets him recite the new Zulu words he has recently learned. After a while, Kumalo begins speaking sentences and trying to get the boy to translate them.

Halfway through this lesson, Kumalo’s wife enters the room and stands in shock at the sight of the little white boy sitting at the table. She...

(The entire section is 438 words.)

Chapter 34 Summary

The church in Ndotsheni is holding a confirmation ceremony, and everyone works together to get ready. The people of the village wear their best clothes, which in most cases are just their everyday clothes scrubbed clean. The women work hard to prepare a simple meal for the people to eat together after church.

Meanwhile, the clouds are building for another storm. This is good news, but it makes people anxious. The Bishop is coming to the confirmation ceremony, and everyone worries that the storm will delay him. Because of this, the villagers watch the road closely.

Before the Bishop arrives, Kumalo’s friend drives up in the milk cart. The milk is normally delivered much later in the day, and Kumalo comments...

(The entire section is 678 words.)

Chapter 35 Summary

The new agricultural demonstrator has begun his work, and the people of Ndotsheni are already doing things differently. To prevent erosion, they are plowing around the hills instead of straight over them. To improve the quality of the soil, they are collecting dung to use for fertilizer.

There has been some resistance to the changes, especially from the man who had to give up his land as a site for the new reservoir. (This reservoir is being built on the site where the white people pounded sticks into the ground.) This man was given a different plot of land somewhere else, but he does not think it is quite as good, so he is angry all the time. Next year, a couple of other men will have to give up their land so that the...

(The entire section is 534 words.)

Chapter 36 Summary

On the day before Absalom’s execution, Kumalo tells his wife that he will climb into the mountains. This is what he always does when he faces extreme sorrow or temptation, so she agrees that it is a good idea. He invites her to come along so that she will not be alone, but she says that she needs to stay close to home for the sake of the girl, who will give birth soon.

Kumalo takes some tea and cornmeal cakes, and he sets out alone on the long hike into the mountains. On the way, he meets Jarvis, who says again that he wants to build a new church for Ndotsheni. He also says that he is moving to Johannesburg.

Kumalo hates the idea of Jarvis leaving, but the white man explains that he is too old to live...

(The entire section is 602 words.)