Cry, the Beloved Country

by Alan Paton

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Chapter 34 Summary

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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.

During this conversation, the child messenger who carried Kumalo’s letter to Jarvis returns with a reply. Jarvis’s note thanks Kumalo for his letter and explains that his wife did indeed care about helping the people of Ndotsheni. She felt, as Jarvis feels, that the best way to honor the memory of their son is to do good deeds. One of Mrs. Jarvis’s last wishes was to build a new church for Ndotsheni, and Jarvis promises to speak with Kumalo soon about the plans.

The Bishop reads Jarvis’s message and says it is “extraordinary.” In the end, he decides that Kumalo should remain in Ndotsheni and continue helping with the work that is being done. Afterward, the Bishop leaves and Kumalo watches the sky, feeling comforted.

That night, Kumalo’s wife, Absalom’s wife, and several other villagers make a wreath for Jarvis. At first they decorate the wreath with the flowers from their valley, but when they look at it, none of them thinks it looks good enough. “It does not look like a white people’s wreath,” someone says, and everyone agrees that white people use different flowers and fancier ribbons. One man knows where the right flowers grow, and he offers to travel miles in the dark to gather some. Another woman offers a piece of white ribbon she has been saving. Kumalo agrees to make a card that looks right. In the end, the villagers manage to create a wreath worthy of a man as good as Jarvis.

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Chapter 33 Summary


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