Summary and Analysis
Book 3: Chapters 30-36
The drought that covers the land in Chapter 30 becomes a symbol for the drought of the spirit as well as of the land. Rain and water are traditional symbols of birth, purification, and love. Conversely, the absence of water and the absence of rain must be regarded as symbolic of death, or a withdrawal of love. T. S. Eliot, in The Waste Land, utilized these symbols. Also William Faulkner, in a story called "Dry September," used the drought of nature as a symbol of the inner drought of a group of Southern townspeople that drives them to lynch an innocent black man.
This chapter contains the return from the quest. Earlier it was suggested that Kumalo's trip to the city could be viewed in terms of a quest. Now with his return from this quest or journey, which some may see as a failure, he has brought back two new people, who serve as symbols of new hope and perhaps of a new quest.
Even though this small village is being destroyed by a drought, there is still more of a sense of unity and a quality of life about it than was found in the impersonal city. Paton refers to the valley as a waste land but lets the reader know that there is no waste land of the spirit here. The manner in which Kumalo is accepted indicates a stronger and a more humane relationship than existed in the city. Kumalo, himself, thinks that he should leave because of the disgrace brought about by other members of his family, but his followers respect him for the suffering he has endured. Kumalo has also learned that kindness and love can pay for pain and suffering. In his return home, he finds all the love and respect that was missing in the larger city where he endured so much pain and suffering.
Kumalo is strengthened by his memories of Msimangu. He calls him "the best man of all my days." His quiet example stands as a symbol for Kumalo of the way a man can quietly work for the good of humanity.
Kumalo's decision to act on the problems of the village causes him to go to the chief and to realize how meaningless is this figurehead who has no power. Kumalo is able to see this because his journey to Johannesburg has opened his eyes to many new things and ideas. For the first time, Kumalo is able to evaluate the tribal system more objectively. Furthermore, he is braver than he used to be. He no longer accepts the chief's word; he insists that something be done even though ultimately Kumalo realizes that the chief will do nothing. Then he goes to the headmaster, but he is again disappointed because the headmaster tells him that the school will be able to do nothing. His vision of a great new society is dimmed as he encounters one obstacle after another.
Once more Paton shows what one man can do if he is willing to learn and to act on the basis of what he has learned. Mr. Jarvis, rather than giving in to hatred and a desire for revenge after the murder of his son, was brought by his own innate goodness and the prodding of his son's words to rethink all his old opinions about his country and himself — or perhaps to think about these things for the first time in his life. Now his thoughts have begun to bear fruit, for earlier he gave money to the African Boys' Club, and now he provides milk for the village's children.
His grandson, too, has begun to learn and to understand the Africans, both their language and their problems. With the example of his grandfather and the deeds of his father, it seems likely that he will grow up with a new set of principles; what Arthur Jarvis started is beginning to show results.
The letters Kumalo receives contrast to the events transpiring in his own home town. The letters bring distressing news of death, but in contrast the valley is presently receiving help from Mr. Jarvis.
The uselessness of the chief is shown by the fact that when he sees the surveyor planting sticks in the ground, he orders his men to also plant some sticks. They are rather comic figures in comparison with the good Jarvis and Kumalo.
While Jarvis is in the valley, it begins to rain. As noted in an earlier commentary, the beginning of the rain can be seen as a symbol of the renewed hopes and rebirth of the valley. Jarvis is trapped in the rain and must ask Kumalo for permission to leave his saddle on the parson's porch and to take refuge in the church. The building leaks so much that they have to move constantly in order to find better protection. Ultimately, Jarvis will build a new church for the village. During their wait, Jarvis learns that Absalom's plea for clemency has not been granted and that his son's murderer will soon be hanged. Thus the two fathers are left with only the memories of their sons.
Arthur's son comes to Kumalo to learn more Zulu. Kumalo sees the brightness of the father shining in the son. As the boy leaves, Kumalo hopes that he will see the valley reborn before he dies because during his lifetime he has seen so much disintegration.
Mr. Jarvis is not just giving gifts or charity to the people of the valley. Following his son's advice, he is providing the means for the people to help themselves. He provides them with the agricultural demonstrator so that the people themselves can learn how to preserve the land and turn it into a productive valley again.
In these last chapters, there are strong indications of communication and understanding between Mr. Jarvis and Kumalo. As soon as he hears of Mrs. Jarvis' death, Kumalo would like to speak to Jarvis, but custom forbids; he must content himself with writing a letter of condolence. Mr. Jarvis answers, explaining that Mrs. Jarvis had been ill for some time. He writes this explanation so that Kumalo will not think that Arthur's murder caused Mrs. Jarvis to die, thus indicating that Mr. Jarvis has developed a deeper sympathy and compassion for the feeling of the blacks. At the same time, Jarvis promises Kumalo a new church. One of the natives responds by scouring the countryside in order to find the best white lilies for a wreath for Mrs. Jarvis.
In Chapter 35, we begin to see that in the reconstruction of the land, the demonstrator must work against the grumbling and discontent of the natives. He has to make them understand that reconstruction is a long, slow process and that they cannot expect too much in a short time.
The demonstrator and Kumalo have a discussion about who has responsibility for the condition of the land. Kumalo refuses to put all the blame on the white man and asserts the gratitude he feels for the way in which Mr. Jarvis has helped them. Kumalo warns the demonstrator not to hate any man and not to desire power over any man. From his trip to Johannesburg, Kumalo has learned the tragedy that can occur when hate and power control a man. Hope rests with people like the demonstrator, who assures Kumalo that he has no hate and desires only to work for the good of all of Africa.
The day before Absalom is to die, Stephen goes to the mountain to be alone with his thoughts and with God. King David, too, when he learned of the death of his son Absalom, went off by himself, to weep and mourn and cry, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!" Absalom had turned away from his father and had acted on the advice of false friends, friends who had betrayed him, and Absalom had died because of this. So the parallel between Cry, the Beloved Country and the Biblical story holds true.
The meeting between Jarvis and Stephen is as close as these men will ever come. Each says almost all he feels, and yet there remains some reticence, and Paton repeats several times the phrase "but such a thing is not done lightly" to illustrate that however much these men feel in common and however much love they have for one another, the pattern of racial relations in South Africa comes between even them. If these men cannot tear down this wall entirely, how much harder it is for men who have more fear, more hatred, and more to hide, to tear down the wall between them. Unless these walls are torn down soon, however, Msimangu's prophecy may come true, the prophecy that by the time the whites have realized they must overcome their fears and treat the blacks with justice, decency, and love, the blacks' patience will have worn away and be replaced by a hatred of the whites. Kumalo knows that only love will save Africa.
The book ends with a return to the mood of the first chapter, but with a difference: one day a dawn will come to lighten men's minds, to relieve them of the darkness of fear and the bondage to their fellow men.