Cry, the Beloved Country

by Alan Paton

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Chapter 14 Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 502

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 will believe the testimony of a known thief and murderer.

This disgusts the reformatory director, who lashes out at both of the Kumalo brothers. He shouts at them, saying that he does good work, and that he will not be involved in any corrupt attempts to protect the guilty. He gets into his car and leaves.

Kumalo, unsure where else to turn, decides to ask the advice of the English priest, Father Vincent. 

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