Cry, the Beloved Country

by Alan Paton

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Chapter 31 Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 682

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 off the Zulu words he has learned since his arrival on his grandfather’s farm. Kumalo laughs and claps, complimenting the child on being such a fast learner.

In English, Kumalo offers the boy a glass of water, and the boy asks for cold milk from the fridge instead. At this, Kumalo explains that there are no refrigerators in Ndotsheni, and there is no milk either. The boy asks innocently how the children survive, and Kumalo is forced to explain that many children are dying of starvation. In fact, a baby down the street is starving to death right now. The boy listens solemnly, and then gets back on his horse and gallops away.

That evening, Kumalo’s friend knocks on the door and says he heard about the visit by the little Jarvis boy. At first Kumalo is afraid, thinking that the boy’s grandfather will be angry about the conversation. However, nothing of the sort is true.

With a great deal of fanfare, the friend shows Kumalo two metal cans full of milk. He says Jarvis will send milk to Ndotsheni every day until the village has grass to feed the cows again. It will be Kumalo’s job to distribute the milk among the youngest children in the village.

Both Kumalo and his friend are amazed at Jarvis’s kindness; they know it will save many children in Ndotsheni from starvation. The friend says that he would die if Jarvis told him to. Then he leaves Kumalo standing outside, laughing with joy.

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Chapter 30 Summary


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