Summary and Analysis
Book 1: Chapters 11-14
A tragic note is sounded in Chapter 11; the worst consequence of the oppression and consequent lawlessness is shown: the death of a man of goodwill, a man who was trying to help. It is only people like Arthur Jarvis who keep the blacks from complete despair and hatred. They are the bridges between the two races, but there are relatively few of them so the loss of even one is a great loss.
Stephen has been constantly depicted as a deeply religious man, and now his inability to pray represents the depths of despair to which he is rapidly sinking. Even the Reverend Msimangu must admit that sometimes this seems like a godless world.
The title of the novel, Cry, the Beloved Country, begins to take on deeper significance. As Stephen sinks into despair, and as the news of the death of Arthur Jarvis is presented, we have the moving passage: "Cry for the broken tribe, for the law and the custom that is gone. Aye, and cry aloud for the man who is dead, for the woman and children bereaved. Cry, the beloved country." The passage emphasizes again the passing of the old order, the old rules and the traditional values, which have not yet been replaced by something new. There is now a sense of impending chaos.
The first half of Chapter 12 interrupts the story of Stephen's search. Chapter 9 shows the problems of the blacks in finding a place to live, and this chapter shows the problems of the whites in dealing with the blacks. There is a conflict between fear and constructiveness.
Paton surveys white attitudes toward the trouble brewing among the blacks, handles the main points, and shows that there is little constructive action because there are too many differing views and that it is easier to use police and oppression than to solve problems.
One of the main problems presented in the novel is that of lawlessness and civil disobedience. The people live in fear because there is so much lawlessness, and they have no knowledge of what terrible event will occur next. The people are no longer able to enjoy the beauties of nature. Because of fear, man is left in a desperate plight.
Many voices are heard: one person demands more police to protect the whites from theft, muggings, and murder; one says that the way to prevent African crime is to give the Africans a worthwhile way of life, with decent education, that increased police protection is no long-term answer to the problem; one insists that more education would decrease juvenile delinquency, and another argues that more education would only mean cleverer criminals; one says that stricter enforcement of the pass laws is the answer, and another says that the pass laws just won't work; one woman objects to the presence of natives at Zoo Lake and says they should be given recreational facilities of their own to keep them out of the whites' places of recreation, and her friend argues that this won't work in practice.
Some propose dividing the country into separate areas for blacks and whites, each with their own lands, cities, and government. The English-speaking churches (Anglican, Roman Catholic, etc.) want more education for natives, more opportunities, and a removal of all governmental restrictions on them, such as the pass laws; the Afrikaan-speaking churches want segregation that will allow the natives opportunity "to develop along their own lines."
Note the organization of the chapter: after the series of short scenes, there is a lyrical passage about "Cry [for] the beloved country." After this passage, the narrative again resumes, but the narrative is also presented in short staccato scenes, as Stephen returns to various points looking for Absalom but finds that the police have already been there before him.
Chapter 13 represents a significant change in Kumalo. He has gradually been sinking deeper and deeper into despair, but at the end of his visit to Ezenzeleni, he tells Msimangu that he is recovered. He has seen an example of the whites helping the blacks, and even the blind have found a purpose in life. This situation gives Kumalo a vision of how the whites and the blacks can work together, which, in turn, gives him hope for the future. Kumalo's optimism will ultimately be fulfilled when Jarvis devotes some of his time to helping the black people.
The entire change in Kumalo results because of his reviewing everything that has happened to him. He thinks about mending the tribe but realizes that too much has already transpired and that it is too late. Instead, he dedicates himself to helping people like his sister and the young girl. Thus, his experiences have enlightened him, and he vows that he will take more interest in education and try to be more active in the affairs of his native people.
The ultimate change in Kumalo comes when he hears Msimangu speak "with a voice of gold." The sermon has such an effect upon the simple Kumalo that it gives him some direction toward understanding the suffering in the world, and it inspires him to devote himself as much as possible to other people. Up to this point, he has been receiving help from others in order to solve his personal problems, but in the example of Msimangu he sees a man who devotes himself entirely to helping others with no selfish motivations.
The novel began with Kumalo leaving his native district to search for his sister Gertrude, his brother John, and his son Absalom. By the end of Chapter 14, he has now found all three. Kumalo, then, faces his greatest test when he is informed that his son has committed murder.
As with Gertrude, there is a barrier between the father and the son when they first meet. As Stephen keeps asking Absalom questions, he and his son grow further apart until both feel tortured. The serious lack of understanding and communication brought about by the different ways the father and son have gone over the last years creates a vast distance between them. Kumalo had looked forward to a great reconciliation with his son, but instead he finds his son a criminal accused of a heinous crime. This fact alone is virtually beyond the simple and virtuous Kumalo's ability to understand. It will be much later before Kumalo will develop a deep compassion for his son.
This chapter also shows what sort of man John Kumalo is. He has been contrasted with the other African leader, Dubula, for John is pompous and boastful, a man who poses as a chief, who is full of words but no action. Dubula, soft-spoken and yet very effective, sacrifices his job and his comfort for the cause. Now John is shown as being quite ready not only to abandon his brother, but to free his own son, by laying all the blame for the robbery on Absalom. He is ruthless, but not for a cause, only for himself. If he can be such a traitor to his own brother and nephew, he certainly can betray the African cause he pretends to uphold.