Cry, the Beloved Country
Book II: Chapters 18–21
The truth is that our civilization is not Christian; it is a tragic compound of great ideal and fearful practice. . . .
Summary — Chapter 18
The narrator repeats the descriptions of the hills of Natal that open Book I: the valleys are lovely, and the grass is thick and green. Looking down upon it all is High Place, the residence of a white farmer named James Jarvis, the father of the slain Arthur Jarvis. Jarvis hopes that rain will soon fall on his dry fields. The hills of Ndotsheni below are dry and barren from over-farming, and no one knows how to solve the problem. Jarvis ponders all the possible solutions to the over-farming. If only the native people would learn how to farm, he thinks, and if only those who were educated stayed to help their people instead of running to the city. Of course, his own son, Arthur, decided to leave the farm and become an engineer in Johannesburg, but he doesn’t begrudge Arthur his decision.
Standing on a ridge to look for rain clouds, Jarvis sees a police car approaching his home. He thinks that it must be one of the Afrikaner policemen—Afrikaners are white South Africans of Dutch descent largely considered by families of English descent to be of a lower class. Though he is of English descent, Jarvis believes that the local Afrikaners are a fine people. Two policemen, van Jaarsveld and Binnendyk, come to him with the shocking news that his son has been shot and killed. As Jarvis copes with the announcement, they offer to make arrangements to get him to Johannesburg as quickly as possible. He accepts their offer, and while one of the policemen calls to arrange for the flight, Jarvis breaks the bad news to his wife, who breaks down crying and screaming.
Summary — Chapter 19
Mr. Jarvis and his wife fly to Johannesburg and are greeted by John Harrison, the brother of their son’s wife, Mary. They travel to the house of John and Mary’s parents, where they meet Mary, her mother, and her father, Mr. Harrison. Jarvis, his wife, and Mary get into the car with John to go the mortuary. On the way there, John tells Jarvis that Arthur was an advocate for the rights of the country’s natives, an issue on which Mr. Harrison and Arthur did not see eye-to-eye.
After seeing Arthur’s body, the family returns to the Harrisons’, where Jarvis joins Mr. Harrison for a drink. Mr. Harrison tells him that condolence messages have poured in from every part of the community, including from the prime minister and mayor. He tells Jarvis that Arthur could speak Afrikaans and Zulu, that he was interested in learning Sesuto (a native language like Zulu), and that some wanted him to run for parliament. Arthur protested the housing conditions of the mines’ workers, ignoring warnings that he was jeopardizing his job as an engineer and maintaining that the truth was more important than money. Mr. Harrison calls Arthur a real crusader in his efforts for others, then reveals that all of white Johannesburg is scared stiff by the attacks. Though neither he nor Mr. Harrison share Arthur’s politics, Jarvis is moved by these stories about the respect his son inspired and about his son’s courage.
Jarvis goes to bed, where he shares the stories with his wife and expresses his regret that he did not know more about his son while Arthur was alive. He falls asleep in his wife’s arms, tormented by the question of why his son was murdered.
Summary — Chapter 20
Jarvis sits in his son’s house and looks at all his son’s books and papers. He notices that his son seems to have particularly admired Abraham Lincoln. Jarvis finds a letter addressed to Arthur from a boys’ club in the town of Claremont. He finds part of an article that his son was writing. In this article, Arthur argues that it is unacceptable to keep black South Africans unskilled in order to provide labor for the mines, to break up African family life by housing only black workers but not their families, to deny black Africans educational opportunities, and to break the tribal system without creating a new moral order in its place. Absorbed in his son’s ideas and interested in learning more, Jarvis takes a copy of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. He then walks into the hallway where his son was killed and out of the house.
Summary — Chapter 21
Arthur’s funeral is packed with people from every walk of life, and for the first time, Jarvis sits in church with black people and shakes their hands. Afterward, Jarvis sits with Mr. Harrison. Mr. Harrison looks forward to getting revenge on Arthur’s murderer, but Jarvis says that it is too early for him to think in these terms. Mr. Harrison speaks again about South Africa’s problems: the natives are committing crimes and forming unions to demand higher wages and, in general, starting trouble. John joins them, and Mr. Harrison gets even more agitated, arguing against the white Afrikaners as well as black South Africans for claiming that the mines steal the country’s natural resources. After asking John to take him to the boys’ club some time, Jarvis retires to bed.
The next morning, Mr. Harrison tells Jarvis that he has received word that Arthur’s servant has regained consciousness and has identified his assailant as a former garden boy of the Jarvises. He adds that the investigation can now move forward. Mr. Harrison also brings Jarvis the manuscript that Arthur was working on when he was killed. In this manuscript, Arthur argues that those who say God created black people to be unskilled laborers are un-Christian because they wish to prevent a segment of the population from developing their God-given abilities. The European rule of South Africa, Arthur’s treatise says, is not a Christian one. Jarvis is deeply moved. He and his wife grieve that Arthur’s life was cut off before he could finish his writing and his life’s work.
Analysis — Book II: Chapters 18–21
In the beginning of Book II, we see South Africa from the perspective of a conservative white Englishman. The reasons for the impoverishment of the land in Ndotsheni are made explicit: black people are given a limited area to cultivate and over-farming of the land is the inevitable result. Furthermore, a lack of education and the flight of young people to cities make it difficult to introduce methods of farming that are more gentle to the land. The reasons for the ravaging of the land that Paton describes in the first three chapters are suddenly clear. The first two paragraphs of Book II are nearly identical to the first two paragraphs of Book I, which may suggest either the unlikelihood that these conditions will ever change or the inability of most white South Africans to understand the need for change.
The conservative and liberal sides of South Africa’s pressing race debate find charming advocates in Mr. Harrison and in Arthur Jarvis. It is undeniable that Mr. Harrison’s views of black Africans are severe, but he himself is a charming and sympathetic man. He brings comfort to the grief-stricken Jarvises, and although he acknowledges Arthur as a political opponent, he gives the dead man the appropriate amount of respect. Furthermore, his eloquent speech on how Johannesburg’s white community lives in utter fear makes it clear that he is a captive of his emotions. Arthur, on the other hand, could be labeled an idealistic dreamer, but every glimpse we get of him is of a young man standing on a solid foundation of intelligence and moral strength. By providing such admirable champions of two white perspectives on race issues in South Africa, Paton forces us to focus on the issues themselves instead of allowing personalities to obscure them.
By examining Arthur Jarvis’s ideas at length in this section, the novel provides a way for us to get an understanding of the views of those fighting against injustice in South Africa. In the two essay fragments that the novel includes, Arthur contrasts whites’ justification of their policies to the policies’ actual effects. In the first essay, Arthur lists what he thinks are the permissible assumptions and actions of whites: it is permissible to develop natural resources; it is permissible to recruit labor to work the mines; it is even permissible to permit the destruction of tribal life, which some believe was dying out anyway. Arthur argues, however, that it is not permissible to force black Africans to remain uneducated and unskilled just because the mines require unskilled labor. It is not permissible to house black workers but not their families now that the government understands that this setup destroys family life. More generally, it is not permissible to develop natural resources at the cost of a group of people. Arthur’s contention that “[s]uch development has only one true name, and that is exploitation” reflects his fundamental belief that blacks, as human beings, should receive the same treatment and be accorded the same dignity as whites.
Arthur’s unfinished manuscript, which Mr. Harrison gives James Jarvis to read, validates the use of religion as a weapon against oppression. Until this point, Christianity has helped black South Africans endure the oppression of the country, but it has not helped them resist it. Arthur uses religion to argue against the policies of the mines. Contradicting the argument of white Christians that blacks were made to labor for whites, Arthur states bluntly that these men are falsely attributing their own opinions to God. A truly Christian leadership, Arthur argues, would encourage the cultivation of individual talents and skills among the native population. This argument provides a response to John Kumalo’s earlier assertion that the church only reinforces white rule. Although the church can act as a voice for conservative, even oppressive ideas, the Christianity that Arthur Jarvis believes in stands on the side of black rights and demands change to the system that denies these rights.
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