Cry, the Beloved Country

by Alan Paton

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Chapter 36 Summary

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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 eventually he forces himself to stop thinking about it. He has learned that it is not in his power to understand such things.

During the night, Kumalo falls asleep. He awakes once at one o’clock in the morning, and he wonders whether his wife and son are getting any sleep tonight. He doubts it, and he prays for both of them.

After that, Kumalo falls asleep again, and he awakes about an hour before sunrise. He knows that hangings happen as the sun comes up, so he guesses that the final preparations are being made right now. He prays and grieves for the last hour until the sun rises, and then he accepts that his son is dead.

As Cry, the Beloved Country ends, the author observes that the sun rises in Africa every morning. But nobody knows when the sun will rise on an Africa that is free.

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Chapter 35 Summary