Cry, the Beloved Country | Study Guide

Alan Paton

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Cry, the Beloved Country | Book 1, Chapters 11–12 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 11

In this brief chapter, the novel's plot takes a fateful turn. Just after Theophilus remarks to Stephen it is about time for Stephen to rest for a while, Theophilus suggests he accompany him later that week to Ezenzeleni, a missionary settlement for the blind. Stephen agrees.

At dinner in the Mission House, the assembled priests enjoy a pleasant discussion. Father Vincent, one of the white priests from England, speaks of his native country, and Stephen tells about Ndotsheni in Natal. That evening, however, some priests bring in the latest edition of one of the newspapers, reporting the death of Arthur Jarvis, a prominent young engineer. The murdered man's father, James Jarvis, lives near Ndotsheni, and is an acquaintance of Stephen. Father Vincent reads the newspaper article in full. As he is about to retire for the night, Stephen confesses to Theophilus his heart is full of fear.

Chapter 12

This chapter's structure, at least in part, resembles that of Chapter 9. Various extracts from public meetings, as well as snatches of family conversations, all converge on the theme of fear. Segregation, inequality, increased police protection, and violence are all urgently debated issues.

In the second half of the chapter, the narrative presents a kind of reverse investigation, in which Theophilus and Stephen retrace their steps. They find the police have interrogated Mrs. Ndlela, Mrs. Mkize, Mrs. Hlatshwayo, and others (including Absalom's girlfriend), all in a search for Absalom.

Analysis

These are especially suspenseful chapters. Although the characters questioned deny any knowledge of the reason for the authorities' search for Absalom, there seems little doubt the search has been motivated by the violent murder of Arthur Jarvis. How Absalom may be implicated in this deed remains unclear.

Chapter 11 initiates one of the novel's principal ironies of situation. In situational irony, there is a striking contrast between what is expected to happen and what actually happens, or between appearance and reality. Here, the irony consists in the fact that Arthur Jarvis's assailants are thought to be—and do indeed turn out to be—natives, whereas Jarvis himself has been a prominent crusader for interracial justice and equality.

Does Stephen have a premonition or sixth sense about his son Absalom's involvement in Jarvis's murder? Chapter 11 would certainly seem to suggest he does. By this time, he knows enough to conclude that Absalom has been involved in burglary, and possibly other illegal activities. He knows Absalom has been sent to a reformatory by a magistrate. He also has a vivid sense of how easily young people may fall by the wayside in the metropolis of Johannesburg.

Chapters 11 and 12 are also notable for their iterations of the novel's title. In Chapter 12, it is difficult to tell what kind of exhortation Paton is issuing. Or is he addressing his compatriots and urging them to cry, or shout, the words "beloved country"? Perhaps he intentionally leaves the precise meaning open to interpretation. In any case, the theme of fear is again prominent. Paton believes the future—as seen from the vantage point of 1948—is full of unknown dangers for those who will be born in South Africa. In this, he was truly prescient. Over 40 years were to pass before South Africa would free itself from one of the most cruelly authoritarian and repressive regimes in the world—the governmental institutionalization of apartheid and the ruthless repression of over 80% of the population.

As these chapters unfold, the reader gains additional insight into the close friendship between the two priests, Stephen and Theophilus. By the end of Chapter 12, it seems as if their bond is one of the most positive, admirable relationships in a story full of despair and frustration.

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