Cry, the Beloved Country

by Alan Paton

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Chapter 16 Summary

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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 place.” He explains that she would be the daughter-in-law of a priest, so she would have to behave properly and avoid shaming him. In essence, he is offering her a future without sex, and he asks what she would do about “desire.” She replies that her only “desire” is to go to his village and live dutifully as his daughter.

This answer pleases Kumalo. He tells the girl that he will bring her back to his village on one condition: if she hates it and wants to leave, she must say so openly. She agrees but swears that she will love her life there. In the end, Kumalo leaves her house feeling that the mess of Absalom’s life may have one good result. 

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