Cry, the Beloved Country
Book II: Chapters 25–27
That man should walk upright in the land where they were born . . . what was there evil in it? . . . such fear could not be cast out, but by love.
Summary — Chapter 25
Jarvis and his wife go to visit one of Mrs. Jarvis’s favorite nieces, Barbara Smith. While the women go into town, Jarvis stays behind to read the newspaper’s reports on crime and the gold rush. There is a knock at the door, and when Jarvis opens it, he is surprised to see a frail black parson in tattered clothes. The parson seems shocked by the sight of Jarvis and begins trembling so much that he is forced to sit down on the house steps. Torn between compassion and irritation, Jarvis holds the parson’s stick and hat while the parson struggles to his feet and collects his scattered papers.
The parson explains that he is there to check on a friend’s daughter who had come to work for the household. Jarvis refers him to the house’s native servant, then realizes that the man before him must be the parson, known in Zulu as the “umfundisi,” of Ndotsheni, Jarvis’s hometown. Jarvis tells the parson that he may wait for the mistress of the house to return, then asks the old man why he is so afraid of him. The umfundisi, who does not give his name but is obviously Kumalo, reveals that it is his son who murdered Arthur Jarvis. Jarvis leaves abruptly to walk around the garden, and though he is obviously very emotional when he returns, he informs the parson that he is not angry. They share a memory of Arthur when he was young, and Kumalo tells Jarvis how saddened he is by the Jarvis family’s loss. Mrs. Smith returns and curtly informs Kumalo, through Jarvis, that the girl he seeks was fired after she was arrested for distilling liquor. She has no idea where the girl is now. The parson leaves, and when Mrs. Jarvis asks Jarvis why he seems disturbed, Jarvis makes a cryptic comment about a visit from the past.
Summary — Chapter 26
John Kumalo addresses a crowd with his powerful voice. His voice rolls out beautifully, like thunder, but his comrades Dubula and Tomlinson listen with scorn and envy, for it is a powerful voice not backed by their courage or intelligence. John argues that the wealth from the new gold that has been found in South Africa should be shared with the miners. The crowd roars with John as he declares that the miners deserve higher wages and better conditions. Some of the white policemen on guard say that John should be shot or imprisoned. The narrator notes that while some leaders want to go to prison as martyrs, John does not, since he knows that in prison there is no applause. Toward the end of his speech, he states that he and the crowd do not want to trouble the police.
Stephen Kumalo and Msimangu are among the listeners. Kumalo is impressed, but Msimangu is skeptical—he knows that John lacks courage, and wonders why God should have given this man a gift of such oratorical skill. Still, he is thankful that John lacks heart, because he believes that if John backed up his words with action, he could plunge the country into violence and bloodshed. They move forward to hear the next speaker, Tomlinson. Jarvis and John Harrison, who have also been at the meeting, leave for Harrison’s club. Jarvis refuses to discuss what he has just seen, simply stating that he does not “care for that sort of thing.”
A police captain reports to his officer. He states that John Kumalo is dangerous and comments on the power of his voice. The officer comments on Kumalo’s voice as well, saying that he must go hear it one day. The captain wonders if there will be a strike. The officer replies that a strike could be a “nasty business.”
The narrative voice returns and states that there are rumors that the strike may spread to the railroads and the ships. The narrator adds that such a terrible prospect makes some white people think about how much they depend on black labor.
In the end, an anonymous voice tells us, the strike amounts to very little. There is some trouble at the mines, and three black miners are killed, but the strike never spreads. A clergyman at one of the nation’s religious conferences brings up the issue of black laborers, but, the voice notes, it’s easier not to think about such things. The voice restates that the strike is over and notes that everything is quiet. Even in the most serene place, a voice retorts, there is no silence. Only fools are quiet.
Summary — Chapter 27
Mrs. Lithebe again reprimands Gertrude for talking and laughing carelessly. Gertrude is defensive and upset, and Mrs. Lithebe tells Gertrude that she does not understand the ways of decent people. Gertrude faults Johannesburg for her corruption and says she will be glad to be gone. Meanwhile, a neighbor brings a newspaper that announces that another white man has been murdered during a break-in by a native. The neighbor and Mrs. Lithebe worry that the news will hurt Absalom’s case. Msimangu arrives, and he and Mrs. Lithebe decide to hide the paper from Kumalo. To prevent Kumalo from hearing the news, they eat dinner at Mrs. Lithebe’s instead of at the mission.
Afterward, the group goes to church and listens to a woman describe her decision to become a nun. Later that night, Gertrude suggests to Mrs. Lithebe that she might become a nun. Mrs. Lithebe is pleased by the impulse, and says it warrants further thought. Gertrude asks Absalom’s girlfriend if she will look after Gertrude’s son if Gertrude becomes a nun, and the girl agrees. Gertrude makes Absalom’s girlfriend promise to keep Gertrude’s idea a secret until it is final, but Gertrude hopes out loud that this decision will keep her from her careless lifestyle.
Analysis — Book II: Chapters 25–27
Chapter 25 proves to be a pivotal meeting point for the novel’s two main perspectives. Book I follows Kumalo, and until this point, Book II has largely been told from Jarvis’s point of view. In Chapter 25, the two men finally meet, and their stories intersect. Paton’s decision to narrate their meeting from Jarvis’s point of view gives us a new perspective on the story. This narrative structure puts us in Jarvis’s shoes. When Jarvis answers the door and finds Kumalo, we are told only that a frail black parson is there. Though we quickly realize that this man must be Kumalo, we share Jarvis’s confusion and suspense until Kumalo identifies himself several pages later. This distance between the two characters mirrors the distance between South Africa’s white and black populations in general. Seeing things from Jarvis’s point of view also gives us a new perspective on Kumalo. Having seen Kumalo’s quest for his son through Kumalo’s eyes, we do not realize what a physical toll this search has taken until Jarvis notices how weak Kumalo is. We also more fully understand Kumalo’s grief for what his son has done because we see how much encountering Jarvis upsets him. Paton makes these two stories intersect in a manner that reinforces not only the distance between whites and blacks but also the nature of their conflict—that blacks are weak and powerless whereas whites are strong and powerful.
Jarvis struggles with a conflict between his conservative perspective that “natives” do not deserve the same considerations as white people, a belief exemplified by Barbara Smith’s curt dismissal of Kumalo’s inquiry about his friend’s daughter, and his desire to extend compassion and courtesy to a frail old man. This split attitude helps explain Jarvis’s interaction with Kumalo at the door. He picks up Kumalo’s walking stick when Kumalo drops it, but he becomes “torn between compassion and irritation” when Kumalo accidentally drops a bunch of papers. When Kumalo explains to Jarvis, however, that “the heaviest thing of all my years, is the heaviest thing of all your years also,” Jarvis seems to understand that the grief the men share puts them on common ground. What differentiates Jarvis from whites such as Barbara Smith, then, is his ability to empathize and identify with others regardless of skin color.
Chapter 26 is a meditation on the complicated relationship between words and social change. John Kumalo speaks beautifully, but he does not demand radical change in the circumstances facing the black population. As Msimangu explains, John is too attached to his own possessions and social position to put himself in real danger. This episode raises some interesting questions about Paton’s views on the merit of words versus action. We see the power of words in the eloquent writings of Arthur Jarvis, and it never occurs to us to question their honesty and ability to change things. With John Kumalo, however, we begin to see that simple eloquence is not enough to bring about social change. The same can be said for unfocused action as well, as can be seen in the easy put-down of the strike. With these examples, the novel argues that social protest does not have meaning without the good intentions and methodical planning necessary to see it through.
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