Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised 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...
(The entire section is 1432 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
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...
(The entire section is 1066 words.)
Cry, the Beloved Country was the forerunner of a whole body of subsequent South African literature protesting apartheid. Like many twentieth-century African novels, Cry, the Beloved Country is the story of a journey, both an actual journey from a village to Johannesburg and a spiritual journey through a hostile society. The Reverend Stephen Kumalo, an Anglican priest and a Zulu, sets out to visit his dying sister and locate his son, Absalom, who has not been in contact since he left the village. With the help of his brother John and a fellow clergyman, Msimangu, Kumalo discovers that his son is in jail, accused of murder. After Absalom's conviction, Kumalo returns to the village with Absalom's wife and newborn child. The events that befall Kumalo during his journey through a society torn by the oppressive system of apartheid force him to confront suffering and assess his values.
(The entire section is 147 words.)
Book I Summary
Cry, the Beloved Country consists of three sections, Books I, II, and III, each presenting a different point of view about the same events. Book I is presented through the eyes of the main character, Stephen Kumalo, a native priest in Ndotsheni, a small community in the Ixopo district of South Africa. The time is 1947. There is a terrible drought that is forcing the young people of the region to leave their agricultural communities and to emigrate to Johannesburg to seek employment in the mines. The loss of so many young people has undermined the tribal traditions, which cannot be maintained in a large urban setting like Johannesburg. The action begins with a letter that comes to Kumalo from Johannesburg, telling him that his sister, Gertrude Kumalo, is ill and needs his help. Kumalo consults with his wife and decides to use their meagre savings to go to the big city to help his sister. His son, Absalom, has also disappeared into the city, and Kumalo hopes to gain word of him as well.
After a long and intimidating journey by train and bus to Johannesburg, Kumalo visits a parish priest named Theophilus Msimangu who helps him to locate his sister. After a long search from one address to another, Gertrude is found living in a shabby room with a young child. She has been working as a prostitute. Kumalo arranges for her and the child to stay with him before they return to Ndotsheni. Kumalo then goes to visit his...
(The entire section is 888 words.)
Book II Summary
Book II is presented from the point of view of James Jarvis, the father of the murdered man. Jarvis lives in Ixopo and has a large estate, High Place, near the village of Ndotsheni where Kumalo is the priest. Jarvis is only vaguely aware of the kaffirs and their community, seeing ignorant, dirty people who exhaust and damage their own land with traditional farming techniques. When the news comes that his only child, Arthur, has been murdered in Johannesburg, Jarvis has the sad task of informing his wife and going to the city to stay with his daughter-in-law's family while the body is identified and the estate settled.
While going through Arthur's papers, Jarvis discovers that his son had a great admiration for Abraham Lincoln and believed that Lincoln had much to teach South Africa about race relations. Since Jarvis knew little of his son's opinions about the conditions of the natives, he makes an effort to understand his son's thinking on the race issue. Jarvis reads the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln's second inaugural address, as well as Arthur's writings about the "native question." Jarvis begins to realize that the prejudices he has held against the kaffirs have contributed to the deprivations that natives have suffered in South Africa. He comes to understand that the white ruling class has broken the tribal life of native people by using them as cheap labor in...
(The entire section is 434 words.)
Book III Summary
Book III is told from the point of view of both Kumalo and Jarvis, who have returned to their respective homes in Ixopo. Jarvis's grandson, the young son of Arthur Jarvis, makes friends with Kumalo in order to learn to speak Zulu. Because of this relationship, Jarvis learns of the deprivations being suffered in the kaffir village because of the drought. He sends milk to save the dying children, hires an agriculture expert to restore the stricken valley and to teach the people effective farming techniques, and builds a new church in his wife's memory. The two fathers, white and black, become reconciled to one another. Together they represent the hope for South Africa's future.
(The entire section is 117 words.)
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 dirt cannot be seen underneath. This keeps the soil healthy, so the rain does not wash it away. The author says that people should treat this land as a holy place:
Keep it, guard it, care for it, for it keeps men, guards men, cares for men. Destroy it and man is destroyed.
After that, Paton’s tone changes abruptly as he describes how erosion slowly destroys the land in the valleys, where people raise too many cattle and burn too many fires. There, the grass thins out so that the red dirt can be seen underneath. The rain falls and, instead of being absorbed into the earth, flows as runoff into the sea, taking the soil along. As this destruction worsens, it advances toward the healthy areas, threatening them as well. According to the author, the eroded land “is not kept, or guarded, or cared for, it no longer keeps men, guards men, cares for men.”
As the chapter ends, Paton paints a sad picture of the eroded land as a dying place. Thunderstorms bring rain that would help healthy land, but when the land is unhealthy, the rain just worsens the erosion. The streams fill up with "the red blood of the earth"; that is, the water carries the red African soil to the sea. The corn does not grow tall, and the produce of the farms is too meager to feed all the people.
Because of this, the people are forced leave the land. Only the oldest men and women, a few young mothers, and the children remain on the farms. The adult men and many of the young women have moved to the cities to work. The land has not been cared for, so it cannot take care of the people.
(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 Johannesburg’s mines and factories, or become servants in the white city dwellers' homes.
This situation is very personal for Kumalo, who has lost many family members to Johannesburg. His brother, John; his sister, Gertrude; and his only son, Absalom, have all gone away to Johannesburg over the years. None of them writes home anymore, so Kumalo has no way of knowing what has become of them. It is not even certain that they are alive.
The letter in Kumalo’s hands probably contains news of his loved ones—but such news, when it finally comes, is often bad. He puts off opening it until his wife admits out loud that they are both afraid. Then Kumalo's pride does not allow him to continue waiting. He orders his wife to open the envelope and read the letter aloud.
The letter is from Reverend Theophilus Msimangu, a man Kumalo has never met. Msimangu explains that Kumalo’s sister, Gertrude, is ill and in need of help. Msimangu asks Kumalo to come to Johannesburg immediately.
After reading the letter aloud, Kumalo’s wife asks what he will do. He tells her to bring him the money they saved to pay for Absalom’s education. His wife gets a small coffee can, but Kumalo hesitates to look inside. He says that Absalom will never go back to school if they spend the money they have saved. His wife replies that Absalom was never going back to school anyway. “When people go to Johannesburg, they do not come back,” she says.
This makes Kumalo angry, not because it is untrue but because it is easier not to admit the truth. He complains that his tribe and family are broken, and that the people who abandon Ndotsheni seem not to care that they are hurting the people...
(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, which is always going where you want to go. In Johannesburg there are many buses, and if you get on the wrong one, it may take you to the wrong place. Worst of all, if you do not know how to walk in all the traffic, you can get crushed by a car or truck in the street. A young boy from Ndotsheni was killed this way on a trip to the great city.
Instead of voicing his fears, Kumalo thanks his friend for helping him carry the bags. His friend says it was not a problem, but he adds that he needs to ask a favor. A man he knows, Sibeko, has a daughter who moved to Johannesburg to work as a servant for a white woman who used to live near Ndotsheni. Sibeko has not heard from his daughter in almost a year, and he hopes that Kumalo will check on her. Kumalo says he will try, and he accepts a crumpled sheet of paper with an address written on it.
The train arrives, and Kumalo boards. The cars for white people are nearly empty, but the car for non-Europeans—anyone with dark skin—is full. The passengers see Kumalo’s clerical collar and respectfully make room for him to sit.
Before the train leaves, Kumalo speaks to his friend through the window. He asks why Sibeko did not ask his favor himself. Kumalo’s friend explains that the man did not want to approach the reverend of a church he does not attend. Kumalo scoffs: “Is he not of our people? Can a man go to trouble only for those of his church?”
Loudly, so that everyone on the train can hear him, Kumalo makes a self-important speech about his trip to Johannesburg. He says that he has a great deal to do in the city, but he will make time in his busy schedule to do this favor. The words imply that Kumalo is an experienced...
(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 have to go deep underground to dig out rock, which the white men loosen for them with “fire-sticks,” or dynamite.
Outside the window, there are more people and more traffic than Kumalo has ever seen in his life. He asks if they are in Johannesburg, and the other men laugh. They say that Johannesburg is much bigger than this. But when they try to explain the height of the buildings, words fail them. One man says they are as tall as a certain hill in his home village, but this does not help Kumalo because he has never seen that hill.
As the train moves on, hundreds of travelers get on and off, or they board other trains, which roar past so loudly that Kumalo is frightened. Outside, the buildings grow taller, and finally the other travelers point at the skyscrapers of Johannesburg. Kumalo stares, trying to make sense of the enormity of it all.
Eventually the train comes to the central station, and Kumalo—head aching from stress and fatigue—makes his way through the crowds to the street. He waits at a corner, but when everyone else begins to walk, he is too scared to cross. He has been told that he is allowed to go when the light is green, but some cars and trucks seem to ignore these signals. Eventually he pulls away from the street entirely and just leans against a building, afraid to take the next step.
After a while, a boy approaches and speaks to Kumalo in an unfamiliar language. When he does not get an answer, the boy switches to Zulu and offers to help Kumalo find the bus station. Kumalo accepts this help gratefully. At the station, the boy shows him the right bus and offers to go buy a ticket while Kumalo stands in line. Kumalo thanks the boy and gives him a...
(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, many never came back, many never wrote anymore.
The other priests listen gravely to Kumalo’s words, and then they explain the situation in Johannesburg. The black people are desperate, and many have no education or opportunities. The young people turn to theft and violence to make a living. The murder rate is high, and everyone is afraid.
After dinner, Kumalo privately asks about Gertrude. Msimangu says that her sickness is not the physical kind, but that no priest would want his sister to the kind of life she now lives. Her husband has disappeared, and now, in Msimangu’s words, “it would be truer to say…that she has many husbands.” She lives in Claremont, one of the worst of Johannesburg’s slums, where she makes a living as a prostitute and a vendor of illegal liquor. She has been in and out of prison, and she needs to be saved, if not for her own sake then for her young child’s.
Kumalo agrees that something must be done, and he asks Msimangu to take him to Gertrude tomorrow. Then he confesses that he has another worry: his son, Absalom, is also somewhere in Johannesburg, and Kumalo wants to find him. Msimangu is sympathetic and promises to help search for the boy.
Lastly, Kumalo asks about his brother, John Kumalo. This name makes Msimangu smile. He explains that John Kumalo is a leader in the city. However, he has lost his faith in God: he believes that religion cannot solve South Africa’s problems.
From Kumalo’s perspective, this is more bad news, but Msimangu seems a little more tolerant of John Kumalo’s secular worldview. After all, white colonialists have destroyed Africa’s traditional tribal structure, and nobody—not...
(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 to Msimangu, Kumalo’s brother John calls the paper the Bantu Repress as a joke.
In Claremont, Msimangu shows Kumalo to Gertrude’s house and then politely retreats so that the siblings can speak alone. Kumalo approaches the house timidly, disliking the sound of the laughter he hears inside. He thinks of it as "bad laughter" because it sounds cynical and corrupt.
When Kumalo knocks on the front door, the laughter stops. Gertrude answers the door, and when she sees her brother she looks scared. Her friends rush to clean up something on the table that a priest should not see, and then they leave. She invites Kumalo inside, and he demands to know what has happened to her since she came to Johannesburg.
At first, Gertrude is hesitant to answer Kumalo’s questions. Because he is her older brother and a priest, she is obligated to treat him with respect. However, she cannot disguise her anger when he accuses her of making bad choices. She says she had no choices. Her husband is missing, and she has to provide for herself and her child in the only way she can.
As the conversation continues, Kumalo asks to see Gertrude’s child, and she admits that she does not know where he is. He is running around unsupervised among the street urchins in Claremont. This appalls Kumalo, so she sends some friends to find the boy.
Kumalo says that Gertrude should come back home to Ndotsheni, where her family can care for her. She starts to cry, and she claims she wants nothing else. He offers to let her live with him at Mrs. Lithebe’s house until he is ready to leave Johannesburg, and she agrees.
Next, Kumalo asks about Absalom. Gertrude she says she heard from him...
(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 conversation that follows, Stephen asks why John stopped writing to his family in Ndotsheni. John explains that life in Johannesburg is so different that it is impossible to explain in a letter, so to him it seemed better not to write at all.
John explains that in Johannesburg, he is important, a businessman and a leader. He is not exactly free, but at least he matters. In Ndotsheni, he does not matter. He is constantly obligated to obey the chief, who holds his position of power not because he deserves it, but because white people gave it to him.
As the conversation continues, John launches into a political speech. In Johannesburg, he says, black men work hard and get virtually nothing back. Black miners get paid so little they can hardly afford food, and their work ruins their bodies. Most end up dying in hospitals so poorly funded that the patients have to lie on the floors. Meanwhile, the white men who run the mines are rich. They keep all the profits for themselves. One sees this pattern everywhere in Johannesburg: black people work hard and stay poor, while white people reap all the profits.
According to John, the chief back home in Ndotsheni knows nothing of such things. The Church, which is like a chief in that it limits people’s freedom, also provides no answers. That, John says, is why he left the Church and stopped writing home. He is a man of Johannesburg now, and only in Johannesburg can he be understood.
Stephen does not fully understand this speech, but he decides it is better to change the subject than to argue. He asks about Absalom, and John confirms that the boy is friends with his son, Matthew. However, John has not seen the boys since they went off to...
(The entire section is 670 words.)
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 Alexandra are too far for an old man to walk, Dubula agrees—but he says that many old men are walking anyway, as are old women, pregnant women, and cripples. If people refuse to make the sacrifice now, the bus companies will raise fares to a price the people simply cannot afford.
Hearing this, Kumalo says that he can walk. As he and Msimangu set out, Msimangu says that Dubula is “the heart” of black politics in Johannesburg. Kumalo’s brother John is “the voice,” and a third man, Tomlinson, is “the brain.”
As Kumalo and Msimangu walk, cars and trucks roar past them. Eventually one car stops, and the white driver offers a ride to Alexandra. They ride in silence to the edge of the slum, where the man drops them off.
Afterward, Msimangu says it is “something to marvel at” when white men help black men. These days, there is so much violence between blacks and whites that it seems fear would drown out all decency. He tells Kumalo a few stories, even saying obliquely that young black men sometimes rape white women.
However, Msimangu also knows stories about people of different skin colors taking risks just to help each other. He tells Kumalo about a white woman who was attacked and raped by a white man who left her helpless and nearly naked in the cold. With nowhere else to go, she knocked on the door of a black family’s hut. The man of the family went to a nearby white residence in the middle of the night to get help, even though he could have been shot or attacked by dogs. The white people involved called this black man “a good Kaffir.” Kaffir is a highly offensive racial slur in South African English, similar to the N-word in American English....
(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.
Many people in Johannesburg live close to starvation. Taking in renters is a way to get money for food. Sometimes ten or more people end up cramming themselves into houses with just two rooms. People have no privacy, and they argue a great deal. Often the original inhabitants of a home fear the strangers who have moved in. Often the newcomers are quickly forced to move out again, with nowhere to go.
Eventually, the leader Dubula hatches a plan to build Shanty Town. He picks an empty patch of land by the railroad tracks and urges families to build shacks there—even if they have no building materials except sticks and grass and cardboard.
Everyone knows that the white people do not want another black slum in Johannesburg. But Dubula does not plan to let the white people stop him. He sets a date and urges people to build their shacks quickly, all together in just one night. Dubula says that the white people will be amazed when they see how many people are desperate enough to live in rough shacks that cannot even keep out the weather. He says the government will build more real houses when Shanty Town makes it clear that there is no other choice.
Dubula’s plan sounds desperate, and many people resist. They tell him they cannot live through winter in shacks that are too flimsy to keep out the rain. They look for another way. Many try to bribe officials to give them real houses, but the officials ask for impossibly large sums of money.
In the end, a huge number of people go along with Dubula’s plan. They gather grass, chop down trees, and steal scraps of metal. On the appointed night, they all work together to erect their shacks. The children help as much as...
(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 troubled boys.
Kumalo is not exactly surprised to find out that his son turned to crime, but the news still upsets him. On the way to the reformatory, he asks if criminals can change. Msimango does not know, but he says he hopes so.
The director of the reformatory is an earnest white man who tells Kumalo that Absalom has already been released. He assures the old man that the boy worked hard and did very well during his imprisonment. His girlfriend, who is pregnant, often visited him. The director explains that he took a risk and released Absalom early in the hopes that the responsibility of providing for a family would keep him in line. He adds that if this does not work, nothing will.
The director urges Kumalo not to worry too much about his son impregnating a girl out of wedlock. “The real question is whether he will care for them, and lead a decent life,” the man says. He knows where Absalom lives now and offers to take Kumalo and Msimangu there.
Absalom’s latest home is in a slum called Pimville. There, Kumalo meets an alarmingly young pregnant girl whom Absalom is supposedly planning to marry. She says Absalom has been missing for several days. Although she does not say so aloud, it is clear that she is not sure he will ever come back. In spite of everything, Kumalo feels sorry for the girl, who he knows has virtually no chance of providing for herself and a child.
Msimangu advises against trying to help the girl, but Kumalo feels a responsibility toward his unborn grandchild. Together, he and Msimangu agree to let the reformatory director who has more power and more connections, finish the search for Absalom for them. When the boy is found,...
(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. Years ago, Kumalo sometimes saw Arthur Jarvis, “a small bright boy,” riding through Ndotsheni on his horse. Kumalo never spoke to the child, but it saddens him—and everyone in the room—to hear of the senseless death.
The priests read aloud from the newspaper report about the murder. Arthur Jarvis’s wife and two children were away from home at the time, but he had stayed behind because he was ill. Three black hoodlums, referred to as “natives” in the article, entered the house and knocked out the servant in the kitchen. Mr. Jarvis came downstairs, probably to find out what the noise was all about, and one of the burglars shot him at close range.
After the article is read aloud, the room falls silent. Everyone’s thoughts are filled with grief:
Cry for the broken tribe, for the law and the country that is gone. Aye, and cry aloud for the man who is dead, for the woman and children bereaved. Cry, the beloved country, these things are not yet at an end.
Kumalo excuses himself. He has a terrible feeling about this newspaper story. What if his son, Absalom, is the murderer who killed Arthur Jarvis? He does not say what he is thinking out loud, but Msimangu guesses it anyway. He calls it “foolish” to leap to such a conclusion. In a place like Johannesburg, there are thousands of crimes and thousands of criminals. It is ridiculous to think Absalom could be the worst of them.
Kumalo agrees that his fear makes no sense, but that does not stop him from being afraid. He says good-bye and walks away, and Msimangu watches him go. He reflects, “There are times…when God seems no more to be about the world.”
(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 should note that even the kinder speakers assume white superiority: no one except the author even hints that political and economic equality may be the real solution.
In the text of this chapter, some whites say South Africa needs more police to crack down on black criminals. Others say that law enforcement cannot solve anything, and that people without opportunities turn naturally to crime. After all, how can uneducated and unemployed people be expected to feed themselves without stealing?
Other voices argue about the pass laws. (This was a set of laws that required black South Africans to carry identification documents that dictated strict limitations on where they could live, work, and travel.) One speaker says that the white government must control black people’s movements more strictly, but another points out that the pass laws overtax the justice system. This latter speaker insists that “the pass laws don’t work” but, when pressed, has no solution to offer. He does not, for instance, suggest repealing the pass laws and allowing black South Africans to travel freely within their own country.
The next voice complains about the noise and annoyance caused by “natives” at a beautiful lakeside recreation spot. Her companion advocates more tolerance, but she refers to black people condescendingly as “poor creatures” and assumes that they are all “servants.”
Eventually, the narrator’s voice breaks in among the others. He claims that South Africa’s problems will continue as long as the black majority is kept poor and uneducated. But he takes this logic much further than any of the other speakers when he says that black South Africans who are better...
(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 still and agonizes over the pain in his life. He feels ashamed that Absalom, his own son, got a girl pregnant out of wedlock. Kumalo knows that many people have sex outside of marriage in Johannesburg, but this is no comfort. Absalom has already abandoned his unborn child, and he has clearly been living as a thief. Beyond that, it is possible that the boy has murdered a white man. What does it say about Kumalo if his own son has become the killer of a human being?
All these thoughts plague Kumalo, and eventually he must admit that his personal problem is a symptom of something much bigger: “The tribe was broken, and would be mended no more.” This revelation grieves him greatly.
Eventually Msimangu tells Kumalo that it is a sin to wallow. So Kumalo eats a meal and attends church, where he hears Msimangu read from the Bible for the first time. This, finally, provides Kumalo some comfort, because Msimangu has “a voice of gold,” and he reads passages about healing.
Here the narrator breaks into the story to say that Msimangu is a brilliant preacher, but that some people hate him for it. He preaches to people who have no freedom, no power, and no education. These people are always hungry, and they have no chance to improve their lives unless they fight for something better. According to Msimangu’s critics, his preaching makes it easier for the oppressed to resign themselves to their terrible fate.
At the end of the service, the congregation seems uplifted, and even Kumalo feels better. He says so, and Msimangu seems glad he has provided this small comfort.
(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 prison, where they visit their sons in separate rooms. The reformatory director handles all the negotiations with the white guards and officials at the prison, and he accompanies Kumalo during the visit with Absalom.
When the guards bring Absalom into the room, he seems afraid, and he is reluctant to speak. Kumalo and the reformatory director ask the boy a series of questions: Why did he abandon his pregnant girlfriend? Why did he leave his job? Why did he break into a white man’s house? Why did he own a gun, and, if he had to own one, why did he bring it along during a burglary?
Absalom cannot or will not explain his own actions. His eyes fill with tears, but he answers most of the questions with silence. When his father and the reformatory pressure him to say something, Absalom blames “bad companions” and “the devil” for his behavior. But he does not claim he made any effort to resist either one.
At this point, the narrator breaks into the story to comment on Absalom’s choices as well, but even he seems unable to explain them. All he has are more questions. When Absalom is close to tears, is he feeling grief? Is he sorry he didn’t choose a better life?
"Or does he weep for himself alone, to be let be, to be let alone, to be free of the merciless rain of questions, why, why, why, when he knows not why."
Eventually Kumalo and the reformatory director have to leave the prison. Outside, they meet John Kumalo, who says he is going to hire a lawyer. He insinuates that he is willing to lie and cheat to get his son set free. Absalom has already confessed and named his companions, but John Kumalo sneers that nobody...
(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 to commit murder. A lawyer will also be helpful if Absalom’s accomplices lie and say they were never on the scene of the crime.
Kumalo is still worried about his son’s unmarried status and its effect on his future grandchild. He asks Father Vincent for help arranging a wedding for Absalom and his pregnant girlfriend, and Father Vincent says he will do all he can to make it happen.
After the reformatory director leaves, Kumalo talks to Father Vincent about his feelings. Kumalo explains that he arrived in Johannesburg full of worries, and his feelings have grown increasingly worse ever since. After the news about Arthur Jarvis’s murder, those fears became unbearable. Now that Absalom is found and the fears have been confirmed, Kumalo feels completely destroyed.
Father Vincent tells Kumalo that “sorrow is better than fear. For fear impoverishes always, but sorrow may enrich.” To illustrate this, he creates a metaphor: when storms come, people are afraid that their homes will be reduced to rubble—and nothing can be done about that fear. But after those homes are destroyed, it is possible to rebuild and heal. There is, at least, something to do. In this sense, life is a little better.
After thinking this over, Kumalo says he is too old to start over. He says that God “has turned” from him, but Father Vincent assures him that this is not true. Understanding that Kumalo hopes his son will repent, Father Vincent emphasizes that there is hope as long as Absalom remains alive. Kumalo answers bitterly that his son seems unreachable: Absalom says he is sorry if he understands that others want him to do so, but it does not appear he is really sorry. He cries, but...
(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 clear to everyone in the story that Absalom will never get out of prison, so her marriage to him will be relatively meaningless on its own. However, if Kumalo will accept her as his daughter, she would have a family to help her survive. Eagerly, the girl says that she will gladly marry Absalom and become Kumalo’s daughter. Kumalo explains that he would take her to live far away in a tiny, quiet village, and she says she would love to live in such a place.
Kumalo asks the girl about her life, and she explains that her father left her family when she and her brothers were young. A few years later, she ran away from home because she could not get along with her mother’s second husband. Since then, the girl has lived with three different boys, all of whom ended up in prison.
This story fills Kumalo with mixed feelings. He feels sorry for the girl because her parents did not take care for her as they should have, but it also makes him angry that her reaction was to live an immoral life with a series of boyfriends. For a moment, he gives in to the anger and demands to know if there is any man she would not sleep with. When she does not know what to say, he presses her to say whether she would sleep with him, her child’s grandfather. She says no at first, and he asks why. In her embarrassment and confusion, she suggests that she would do whatever he wants.
When Kumalo hears this, his anger dries up. He feels ashamed of himself for pressuring a girl to say such a thing, so apologizes and admits that he does not really want her to sleep with him. The girl seems relieved.
Kumalo returns to the subject Ndotsheni. He asks if she is sure she could be happy in “a quiet...
(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 possible to bring yet another person into the house. Mrs. Lithebe agrees immediately, saying that it is their duty to provide help and protection to the girl. She will have to sleep on the floor, but she is welcome.
The girl arrives that very day, and she is “openly glad” to be there. She seems awed by Mrs. Lithebe’s house, which seems very fine to her, and she is helpful with the chores. However, the girl is also friendly with Gertrude, and soon Mrs. Lithebe hears them laughing a kind of “careless laughter that she does not like.” This probably means the young women are laughing about something sexual or corrupt—something they know their elders would not like.
As soon as she hears this laughter, Mrs. Lithebe takes the girl aside for a private conversation. Mrs. Lithebe explains sternly that her home is “decent,” and that nobody may laugh or joke about anything improper, especially not if it might hurt the old man. The girl apologizes and swears she will be good. She adds that she wants a family more than anything else in the world.
That afternoon, Kumalo visits Absalom, who seems glad that he might get a chance to marry his girlfriend, and that his child will not be born out of wedlock. He also seems pleased that the girl and his child will live in Ndotsheni, not Johannesburg.
However, it is clear that Absalom is having a difficult time in prison. He has told the truth about the night of the murder, but his two friends claim that he is lying. Kumalo says that a lawyer is coming, and Absalom seems relieved.
That afternoon, a lawyer visits Kumalo and accepts Absalom’s case “pro deo.” The lawyer says that he will need Kumalo to testify to...
(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 want to be farmers, and even if they did, there are too many “natives” for the valley to support.
As his reflections continue, Jarvis reflects that some white people say the “natives” need more land—but Jarvis thinks they would probably just destroy it. And if they farmed it properly, that would be a problem, too: they might get so rich they would not be willing to work for white farmers anymore. In Jarvis’s mind, both of these possible outcomes are unacceptable. He reflects that some problems have no solutions.
From his vantage point on the hill, Jarvis sees a police car approaching his house He watches curiously as the local police captain gets out, speaks briefly to Mrs. Jarvis, then comes to the fields. Realizing that the captain is there to see him, Jarvis walks downhill to meet the man halfway.
Gravely, the captain explains that Jarvis’s son is dead, murdered in his home just two hours ago. He says that he did not inform Mrs. Jarvis, thinking it better to leave that job to her husband.
At first, Jarvis can hardly grasp the bad news. The captain brings up travel and funeral arrangements, but Jarvis finds himself unable to think. The captain has kindly checked the flight and train schedules, and he tells Jarvis when they both leave. When it becomes clear that Jarvis is too overcome to decide what to do, the captain quietly suggests that the plane would be a better option.
After a long moment, Jarvis gathers himself and goes to tell his wife the awful news. The captain, meanwhile, uses Jarvis’s telephone to arrange the couple’s travel plans. Partway through his call, he has to cover his ear to drown out Mrs. Jarvis’s screams of grief.
(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 well-being of another race. Neither of them understands it, but they both say Arthur was a good man. Jarvis adds that he “was never ashamed” of his son.
During this conversation, Harrison informs Jarvis that, on the day of the murder, Arthur was working on an essay titled “The Truth About Native Crime.” Apparently he believed that South Africa’s “native” crime problem resulted at least partly from the actions of whites, but Harrison admits that he does not understand the logic behind that particular idea.
During this conversation, Harrison tells Jarvis a number of things he did not know about his own son. Apparently Arthur argued publicly that black mine laborers should not be forced to live separately from their families in Johannesburg, but should be allowed to bring their wives and children along. These statements angered the mine owners so much that they almost got Arthur fired from his job. When warned to back off, Arthur insisted that he would rather lose his livelihood than abandon his principles.
By the time Jarvis finally joins his wife in their bedroom, his mind is reeling. He is normally quite a silent man, so she is amazed when he relates the whole conversation with Harrison. She, too, is somewhat surprised by the extremes of their son’s altruism, but she understood Arthur better than Jarvis ever did. Now Jarvis shakes his head and wishes aloud that he had tried harder to get to know his own son.
As the chapter ends, Jarvis reiterates a question he has been asking in one form or another since he heard about the murder: Why did Arthur, of all people, have to be the victim? Why did such a bad thing happen to such a good man?
(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 will never be able to attend. There are other papers, too, many of them in Arthur's handwriting. Among them is a single page from an essay about how white South Africans should and should not manage the affairs of their country. Jarvis sits down to read it.
In this unfinished essay, the now-deceased Arthur Jarvis argues that “it was permissible” for Europeans hundreds of years ago to settle South Africa, develop industry, and hire the local people as laborers. However, Arthur goes on to argue that “it is not permissible” to keep black South Africans subservient on purpose. He particularly argues against several practices that were common in South Africa in the 1940s: refusing to educate black South Africans, relegating black tribes to tiny parcels of the poorest land, and forcing black mine laborers to live separately from their families. According to Arthur, it is clear that such choices keep people in poverty, damage the tribes’ ability to function, and destroy families. In his opinion, it is neither moral nor humane for one race of people to keep another downtrodden in this way.
The elder Jarvis reads to the end of this page, which ends on an unfinished sentence. Unfortunately, Jarvis cannot find the next page anywhere, nor does he know for sure whether the next page was ever written. The ideas interest him, partly because they make him think about his own country in a way that is new to him. However, the ideas are appealing largely because they came from the mind of his son. Yet again, he feels amazed that his own offspring was such a stranger to him.
After sitting at the desk a while longer, Jarvis decides to leave. On his way out, he slips one of the Abraham Lincoln...
(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 home of their daughter-in-law’s family, the Harrisons. Jarvis has a drink with the elder Harrison, who says that Arthur’s death is a terrible shame. He says sadly that there may be no solution to “native” crime.
As Jarvis nods absently, Harrison makes a long series of complaints about the black population of Johannesburg. According to him, too many “natives” are coming to the city, and most of the white families in his neighborhood fail to control their black servants properly. Some servants allow total strangers to move into their quarters with them, and their white employers take no notice.
Continuing his rant, Harrison says that mine laborers are beginning to demand higher pay, a fact he considers ridiculous because the mines cannot make a profit without cheap labor. If the mines fail, all South Africa will suffer. The victims would include the laborers, who would lose their jobs and probably starve to death as a result.
Jarvis listens to this speech without comment. It generally echoes what he has always thought on these matters, but he is too worn out right now to think about it. Eventually he excuses himself, saying that he does not want to leave his wife alone.
In the morning, after learning that the police have identified the name of a murder suspect, Jarvis obtains a copy of “The Truth About Native Crime,” the essay Arthur was writing on the day of his death. Jarvis begins by looking at the last page and seeing that it stops with an unfinished sentence. This sends a wave of pain through him because he knows for certain that his son never wrote the next word.
Determined to understand his son better, Jarvis reads the essay slowly and...
(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 because he shot his victim without intending to kill. The prosecutor objects and says that the boy has to plead guilty or not guilty to the crime he has been charged with. Absalom confers with his lawyer and then pleads not guilty.
The rest of the chapter is almost all dialogue. Under questioning by the prosecutor, Absalom explains in detail how he and his friends planned to rob a house they believed to be empty. When Arthur Jarvis turned out to be at home, Absalom fired his gun on accident because he was afraid. He swears he ever intended to kill anyone.
At this point, the judge interrupts the questioning to ask Absalom why he carried a gun at all if he never intended to shoot anyone. Absalom claims he thought he might need to scare someone, and the judge asks why the gun had bullets in it if it was not intended to be used. Absalom explains that the gun was loaded when he bought it, and he never unloaded it.
The judge turns the questioning back to the prosecutor, who asks if Absalom claims the other two defendants are lying when they say they were not with him on the day of the murder. Absalom says that they are lying.
Continuing his story about the crime, Absalom tells the prosecutor that he buried the gun, and then he spent some time praying. He resolved to turn himself in, but he did not do it because he was afraid. When the police caught him, he confessed immediately and told them where to find the murder weapon.
Now, on the witness stand, Absalom explains that he never wants to tell any more lies or do anything bad ever again. When the prosecutor asks why, Absalom says he wants to repent because he is in trouble.
Kumalo and Jarvis both...
(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 thrills them, and they boast about the mineral wealth in South Africa.
Naturally, these speculators’ happiness is not without a few dark patches. They are mainly English-speaking, and they maintain a centuries-old mistrust for the Dutch-descended white people who dominate the area around Odendaalsrust. The speculators do not say this outright, but they do call it “a pity” that so many of South Africa’s great mines have “unpronounceable”—or Afrikaans-sounding—names. Amongst themselves, they suggest a few possibilities for re-naming Odendaalsrust after good Englishmen.
Next, the speculators complain about the “fanciful” ideas published in the liberal newspapers. Apparently some fools are suggesting that instead of speculating so much money on future mine earnings, South Africans should be spending their money on preventing erosion, educating black children, and paying black mine workers a wage that could actually keep them and their families fed.
The speculators scoff at these suggestions, saying that they are ridiculous. After all, stock market investments have nothing to do with the mines’ actual profits. These investments are just the results of smart thinking by brave men who are willing to risk their own money on the future profits of the mine industry. According to the speculators, a man who takes such a risk and gets rewarded need not feel any responsibility toward mine laborers.
At the end of this chapter, the narrator makes it clear that he thinks the white speculators’ whole perspective is wrong. He argues that this new discovery of gold should be used to build a better mining system that would pay laborers fairly and allow families to live...
(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 out an essay called “The Evolution of a South African” and begins to read. In it, Arthur claims it is “hard to be born a South African.” He suggests that, in South Africa, people are expected to be loyal citizens of a racial group, not of a country. Zulus are Zulus; Afrikaaners are Afrikaaners. He, as an English-speaking South African, grew up with virtually no knowledge of any other South African group. He describes his childhood and says that his parents were “honorable people” who raised him well. “But of South Africa I learned nothing at all,” he writes.
This statement offends Jarvis, who puts down the essay and starts to leave. He clomps down the stairs to the kitchen and heads for the door—but on his way past the stain, he reconsiders. He goes back upstairs and reads the rest of the essay.
In the essay, Arthur says that South Africans will have to break down racial barriers if their country is ever to succeed. People of all racial groups will have to work together and make the choice to do what is right for the whole country, not just what is right for the members of their own race. Arthur declares that he has decided to do what he knows is right, not because he is necessarily a good man, but because he cannot live with the inner turmoil of doing anything else.
After he finishes reading, Jarvis sits still for a long time. To him, his son’s words seem both beautiful and meaningful. When he gets up to go, he does not walk past the stain on the floor gain. Instead he leaves through the front door. There is still a police officer outside keeping watch, and he shakes his head, thinking that Jarvis must be too upset to face the truth.
(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 strange priest. Speaking politely in Zulu, he asks if the man is hungry or sick. Kumalo says no to both questions. He seems afraid, but Jarvis does not understand why. He considers walking away, but it does not seem right to leave an old man in such a state.
Eventually Kumalo masters himself well enough to explain that he is seeking news of the daughter of a man named Sibeko. The girl came to Johannesburg to be a servant in this house, but Sibeko has heard no news of her in a year. [Note to reader: This is the errand Kumalo promised to do just before he boarded the train to Johannesburg in Chapter 3.] Jarvis says he knows nothing about his niece’s servants, but he invites Kumalo to wait and ask the lady of the house when she gets home.
During this conversation, Jarvis gradually realizes that Kumalo is the priest from Ndotsheni, the village near his own home. He asked if Kumalo recognized him, and Kumalo says he did. Jarvis asks why Kumalo was afraid. After a long hesitation, Kumalo haltingly admits the truth. “It was my son that killed your son,” he says.
It takes Jarvis a long moment to absorb this news. He walks in the garden for a while, and then he returns to Kumalo and says he is not angry. Kumalo apologizes for his behavior and explains that he was shocked because he did not expect Jarvis to be at this house. At the end of the conversation, Kumalo adds that he is sorry for Jarvis and his family.
Moments later, the women return, and Jarvis’s niece speaks to Kumalo. Kumalo repeats his request for information, and the woman says haughtily that Sibeko’s daughter “went to the bad and started to brew liquor in her room.” The girl went to prison for a short...
(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, so he always ends his speeches before the crowd gets out of control.
In front of the crowd, John Kumalo says it is wrong that laborers work so hard and still starve. Elsewhere in the world, downtrodden people have fought for and won the right to fair pay. “Is it we that must be kept poor so that others may stay rich?” he asks.
The crowd cheers and shouts, and the police grumble that it is dangerous to allow a man with such a great speaking voice to be a leader among the workers. They murmur that the government should throw him in prison “or shoot him.”
However, the police officers do not have to worry. John Kumalo loves his possessions and his small amount of power, and he is unwilling to risk either one. He likes speaking in front of crowds, and he likes it when people applaud and admire him. The narrator observes, “There is no applause in prison.” So just when the crowd gets really excited, John Kumalo thanks everyone and leaves.
Stephen Kumalo watches this speech, and he thinks his brother’s voice is amazing. With Msimangu by his side, he works his way forward in the crowd so they can hear what the next man has to say.
Jarvis also attends the speech, accompanied by his daughter-in-law’s brother, John Harrison. After the speech is over, Jarvis says he wants to leave. John, who believes strongly in reform and revolution, reflects privately that old men cannot face the truth about what needs to happen in South Africa. “But we have to face it,” he says to himself.
All of South Africa grows anxious as the strike movement grows, but the actual strike turns out to be a fairly minor ordeal. The black laborers march around the mines...
(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 front page, a headline proclaims that another black burglar has murdered another black homeowner in Johannesburg. This news upsets and scares everyone in the room. They know it does not bode well for Absalom. It will turn public feeling more strongly against him, and it will give the judge more reason to think he needs to make an example of someone.
Tomorrow is the last day of Absalom’s trial, and Kumalo is under a great deal of stress. Because of this, his friends and family decide to hide the news from him until after the verdict. Amongst themselves, they quietly make plans to keep the old man away from newspapers for the rest of the day.
Later that evening, Gertrude approaches Mrs. Lithebe and says she wants to become a nun. Mrs. Lithebe says she is glad to hear about anyone considering such a difficult life path, but she goes on to point out that Gertrude has a child who is depending on her.
Gertrude knows this is true, but she worries she may not be able to resist the temptations of the real world as long as she lives among them. She suggests that if she becomes a nun, she can avoid shaming Kumalo in the future. Perhaps Kumalo’s wife would care for the child. Mrs. Lithebe seems uncertain about this, and she advises against making a decision right away.
A while later, Gertrude finds the girl who is going to marry Absalom and restates her plan to become a nun. The girl says she would gladly care for Gertrude’s child herself if necessary, but Gertrude says it would be best not speak to anyone about the matter. If Kumalo heard about the plan, he would get excited, and Gertrude does not want to disappoint him later if she changes her mind.
(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 absolutely certain that Matthew Kumalo and Johannes Pafuri participated in the crime.
Next, the judge outlines the details of Absalom’s case. After acknowledging the defending lawyer’s argument that the young man’s crime did not constitute murder because he did not intend to kill, the judge declares the point incorrect. Even if Absalom did not actually want to kill anyone, he did purposely decide to carry a murder weapon onto the scene of a crime. Absalom understood that his gun could kill someone, and he used it anyway. In the judge’s opinion, Absalom’s actions can legally be considered intent to kill.
As he continues his arguments, the judge notes that the defense is correct in his arguments that South Africa’s society failed Absalom by refusing him opportunities. This problem is very real, and it does indeed contribute to crimes like the one Absalom committed.
In the end, the judge asks the defendants to stand. He formally pronounces Absalom’s two friends not guilty, and everyone watches as they get up to leave. Then the judge pronounces Absalom guilty and sentences him to death by hanging.
Absalom falls down on the floor sobbing. A few members of the audience—some on the black side and some on the white—gasp or cry, too. Normally outbursts are not tolerated in the presence of the judge, but today the grieving spectators are left alone.
As everyone files out of the courtroom, the white reformatory director crosses from the white side of the room to the black side. This is a breach in custom, and it is difficult to do, but he does it anyway. He and Msimangu both help Kumalo, letting the old man lean on them as they make their way out.
(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 dutifully speak their wedding vows. Afterward, Absalom speaks to Kumalo and says that he has a post office book—a sort of savings account—with a little money in it. He also has a few possessions that can be sold. He asks that the money be used to help his wife and child. Kumalo agrees that this is a good idea.
Before Kumalo leaves, Absalom cries and says that he is afraid to be hanged. When the guard says it is time to go, Absalom clings to his father and refuses to let go. It takes two guards to pry him away.
After this sad visit, Kumalo goes to see his brother, intending to offer some heartfelt advice. However, when he arrives at his brother’s shop, he finds himself feeling angry. After all, his son Absalom is paying for his crime with his life, and John’s son Matthew got away with his role in it.
Wanting revenge, Stephen Kumalo lies and says that one of John Kumalo’s friends is a traitor who is helping the police. But Stephen is only scaring his brother: in the end he points out that this is the kind of traitorous friendship Absalom experienced from John’s son Matthew. John furiously throws Stephen out of the shop.
Meanwhile, Jarvis is ready to leave Johannesburg. On his way to the train, he speaks to his daughter-in-law’s brother, John Harrison. This young man works for a charitable club that provides opportunities to young black boys. Just before getting on the train, Jarvis hands John Harrison a letter containing a gift of a thousand pounds—an enormous sum of money—to support the club.
That night in Sophiatown, Mrs. Lithebe throws a sad little going away party for Kumalo, Gertrude, and the girl, who are planning to leave on the train first...
(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 from now on. She also greets the girl, who is clearly thrilled by the welcome. She brings Kumalo and his wife “comfort in…desolation.”
Kumalo and the others walk down into the valley toward Ndotsheni, which is even more broken by drought than it was when he left. Kumalo comments that he does not hear the stream, and his friend says it has dried up. Now the women have to walk to the river every day to get water. The corn is not growing well, and nobody knows what the villagers are going to eat in the coming months.
In spite of this bad news, Kumalo’s homecoming is joyful. As he walks home, he hears people all over the village shouting the news of his return. Everyone welcomes him, and they all come straight to the church to see him. He greets them and leads a prayer, asking God’s grace for them, for the land, and for the people he met in Johannesburg.
During his prayer, Kumalo says that he hopes everyone in Ndotsheni will welcome his daughter-in-law and nephew. He also prays aloud for God to forgive his sister Gertrude and his son, Absalom. In this way, he gives the whole village a basic sense of what happened in Johannesburg, and he shows that he does not intend to hide his shame.
After the prayer, Kumalo takes his friend aside and explains in detail what happened with his son and his sister. He instructs his friend to tell the story to anyone who wants to know. He has decided that it would not be right to keep these things secret.
However, Kumalo is still struggling to accept his family’s mistakes, and he asks his friend how the people will trust a priest whose son is a murderer and whose sister is a prostitute who abandoned her child. His friend...
(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 together. But the white men had taken most of the pieces away.
Nevertheless, Kumalo decides to speak to the chief first, because everyone knows the chief gets annoyed if anyone tries to accomplish anything without his consent.
When Kumalo brings up the problem of the land, the chief seems not to know what to say. He tries to brush off Kumalo by offering to speak to someone and make better things happen. Kumalo knows that this is an empty promise, so he points out that such measures have already been taken. The chief hesitates a long time, and then he offers to speak to the magistrate. Kumalo thanks him, but they both know that no good will come of such a conversation.
Kumalo next goes to the headmaster of the school, who says he is already teaching the children about caring for the land. It is clear that these lessons are not helping, but the headmaster simply pretends this is not true. He takes Kumalo through the school gardens—which are dead like the rest of the land—and talks about the good outcomes that will come from teaching children to farm.
After this conversation, Kumalo goes home frustrated. He prays for Ndotsheni, but he can think of nothing more to do to help the village.
That afternoon, a small white boy rides into town. He looks just like Arthur Jarvis looked as a boy, and Kumalo realizes quickly that this is Arthur Jarvis’s son. The boy greets Kumalo respectfully, the same way he would greet a white man. Kumalo is amazed that the boy does not know the custom, but he says hello. At the boy’s request, Kumalo agrees to let him see the inside of the house.
Inside, the boy compliments Kumalo’s humble home and shows...
(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 things were before he left home. Msimangu gives news about Johannesburg, and Kumalo is surprised to find himself missing the city a little.
That afternoon, Jarvis, the magistrate, and the chief all appear at the edge of the village. These great men greet each other, and it is obvious that they have arranged to meet for a particular purpose. However, they do not tell anyone what the purpose is. The white men set up a camera and pound a bunch of sticks into the ground. The chief tries to help, but he clearly does not understand what needs to be done. He does it wrong, and he seems embarrassed when the white men try to correct him. Eventually he gives up and just looks on sullenly as the others pound the sticks into the ground.
Kumalo watches all this from his front door. He is curious about what is happening, but he knows it is not his place to ask. He overhears Jarvis asking the magistrate when they can take the next step. When the magistrate seems noncommittal, Jarvis says that he will go to Pretoria, the seat of the government, to set things in motion. The magistrate agrees that this would probably work. A few minutes later, Kumalo hears the magistrate muttering that Jarvis is driving himself into poverty.
While all this is happening, clouds gather in the sky. Anyone can see that a huge storm is coming, so the chief and the magistrate rush away to make sure they do not get caught out in the rain. Meanwhile, Jarvis stays behind to finish something. When the storm arrives, he takes shelter in Kumalo’s church. Kumalo joins him there.
The rain comes down hard, and almost immediately Jarvis gets hit by water from a leak in the roof. As Jarvis moves out of the stream, Kumalo says...
(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 is painfully aware that this child is the son of the man Absalom murdered, and she does not know what to say. She cannot handle it, so she leaves as Kumalo compliments the boy’s Zulu and encourages him to keep practicing.
As the boy leaves to go home, Kumalo spots Jarvis’s car driving up the hill. Meanwhile, a young man is standing in the road at the edge of the village. He introduces himself as Napoleon Letsitsi and explains that he is “an agricultural demonstrator.” He has studied all the modern farming methods, and Jarvis has just hired him to help the people of Ndotsheni become better farmers.
Thrilled, Kumalo invites Letsitsi inside, and the young man begins talking about the farming practices that can heal the land. People should use dung for fertilizer rather than fuel, and they should plow along the contours of the hills, and they should plant trees to control erosion along the streams. The hardest part will be convincing the men not to keep so many cows, because in Zulu culture, a man’s wealth is determined by the number of cows he owns. These measures sound right to Kumalo, who repeatedly calls Letsitsi “an angel from God.”
Outside, Kumalo hears horse hooves, and he goes out to see the little white boy again. The child says that he has come to say good-bye. His family is returning to Johannesburg, but he promises to come back for more Zulu lessons during the school holidays.
After the child is gone, Kumalo and Letsitsi take a walk through Ndotsheni, and Letsitsi warns that it will take time and effort to heal the land. Kumalo says he does not mind, but he hopes the job will be done before he dies. “For I have lived my life in destruction,” he...
(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 on this. Solemnly, his friend informs him that Mrs. Jarvis has just died. Kumalo wants to offer his condolences, but he realizes that it would be uncomfortable for Jarvis if a black priest appeared among the white mourners.
After a moment’s consideration, Kumalo sits down to write a letter. In it, he says he is sorry to hear of Mrs. Jarvis’s death, and he promises to pray for her salvation. He also suggests that she probably helped with some of Jarvis’s recent kindnesses toward the people of Ndotsheni, and he indicates that he is thankful. When the letter is finished, Kumalo tells a child to deliver it to Jarvis’s house.
The Bishop and the storm arrive around the same time. The confirmation ceremony begins, and the event is quite cold and uncomfortable due to the many leaks in the roof. After church, the congregation feasts indoors, some in Kumalo’s house and others in the leaky church.
After the party is over, the Bishop takes Kumalo aside and says that, because of the troubles with Absalom, the old man must be reassigned to preach in another village far away from Ndotsheni. As the Bishop sees it, the people of Ndotsheni will struggle to trust a priest whose son is a murderer. Moreover, the white father of the murdered man lives unacceptably close to Kumalo.
Kumalo cries at the idea of leaving his home. He does not know how to say that the people of Ndotsheni have accepted him in spite of his family’s troubles. Nor does it seem possible to explain how he, Kumalo, has forged a relationship of respect and understanding with Jarvis. Instead of trying to say what he feels, Kumalo bows his head and indicates that he will do as he is told.
(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 village can raise hay. That will create resentment too. And nobody has even started thinning the cattle herds. That will be the hardest battle of all.
The agricultural demonstrator keeps warning Kumalo that the land will not be healed quickly, even with all this work. The villagers are planting fast-growing trees to use for fuel, but it will be seven years before the wood is ready. In the meantime, the villagers must refrain from burning the cows’ dung during the winter: they will be cold and uncomfortable. Kumalo understands, but he tells the younger man that the people will do what needs to be done.
During this conversation, the agricultural demonstrator comments that it will be good when Ndotsheni no longer has to accept gifts of milk from Jarvis. This comment, with its implied suggestion that it is bad to receive help from a white person, makes Kumalo angry. He tells the younger man to be more respectful toward the person who pays him.
The agricultural demonstrator says that he is grateful to Jarvis for hiring him, but he also points out that white people are to blame for taking most of the land for themselves in the first place. If the tribes still had control over all of South Africa's land, it would not be so difficult to get the land to provide for everyone. The land in Ndotsheni will improve, but an area so small will never support a large population. No matter how healthy the valley becomes, some of Ndotsheni’s children will still have to move away when they grow up.
Kumalo does not particularly like hearing this, but he admits that it is probably true. He cannot really think beyond the work the agricultural demonstrator is doing now, but the younger man says...
(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 alone. He plans to join his daughter-in-law and her children in Johannesburg, but he still intends to continue the work he has begun in Ndotsheni.
As the conversation continues, Kumalo finds that he does not have to explain why he is hiking into the mountains. Jarvis knows that Absalom’s execution will happen at dawn, and he says he understands. This makes Kumalo cry, which embarrasses both of them. Before they part, Kumalo thanks Jarvis for everything he has been doing for the village.
Kumalo is much older than he was the last time he took such a long hike, and his age slows him noticeably. When he finally gets to the top of the mountain, he sits on a rock and prays. First he prays for his son, who has repented now that it is too late to live a better life. Kumalo wishes he could undo his son’s crime, and he wishes he could know for sure whether Absalom is genuinely sorry for what he has done. However, Kumalo has learned that he gets no answers from agonizing over such matters, so he soon forces himself to move on to other thoughts.
The old man prays for forgiveness for his sins, and he also gives thanks for his blessings. During the latter part of the prayer, he is almost surprised to realize how many blessings he has received. He takes his time thinking of all the good people he has known and of the healing that is now being accomplished in Ndotsheni.
Kumalo no longer spends much time wondering why he experiences suffering. But now it occurs to him to wonder why he, of all the men in South Africa, has been chosen to experience so many blessings. There is probably another man who experienced deep troubles without finding so many reasons to hope. This bothers Kumalo, but...
(The entire section is 602 words.)