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Cry, the Beloved Country | Study Guide

Alan Paton

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Cry, the Beloved Country | Book 1, Chapters 13–14 | Summary



Chapter 13

In this chapter, Theophilus makes good on his offer to take Stephen to Ezenzeleni, the Anglican settlement for the blind. Stephen finds the place inspiring. Both black and white staffers work there to teach the blind worthwhile handicrafts. Stephen reflects extensively, thinking of the challenges of rebuilding Gertrude's life and that of her son, and also of the breakdown of the tribe. He listens to Theophilus preach a sermon. This time, an orator's golden voice is uplifting and inspirational, rather than ominous and confrontational.

Chapter 14

At Mrs. Lithebe's, buyers cart away Gertrude's old furniture. Theophilus and the young reformatory official appear to inform Stephen what he has feared has come to pass—Absalom has been arrested in the murder case of Arthur Jarvis. Stephen is so severely shaken he becomes disoriented.

Theophilus accompanies Stephen to John's shop. John's preliminary joking ceases abruptly when he learns his own son, Matthew, has also been taken into custody. Back at the Mission House, Father Vincent, the rosy-cheeked priest from England, offers to do all he can to support Stephen.

The reformatory official accompanies both brothers to the prison. John and Stephen meet their sons in separate encounters. The reunion between Stephen and Absalom is highly emotional, as Stephen struggles once again with conflicting feelings of anger and compassion. Absalom admits he shot Arthur Jarvis, but says he shot out of fear, rather than from any desire to kill.

At the close of the chapter, Stephen and John reconvene. This time, John is more upbeat and confident. He says they must get a lawyer immediately. Turning to Stephen, John remarks there is no proof that his (John's) son and a third young man were present at the scene of the crime. When Stephen ventures to protest, John asks, "Who will believe your son?" It is clear John is determined to deny the charges and shift all the legal responsibility to Absalom.


Theophilus's prediction that Stephen will find solace at Ezenzeleni turns out to be true. The works of mercy performed there, carried out by whites and blacks alike, are inspiring. Even Stephen's somber reflections on failure, guilt, and the moribund condition of the tribe are not enough to depress him in such an environment.

Paton devotes a significant portion of the chapter to an account of Theophilus's sermon at the worship service held at Ezenzeleni. Theophilus is an eloquent preacher. His sermon is built on texts from Chapters 40 and 42 of the Book of Isaiah, passages that acclaim God's power to restore and reinvigorate, and especially to give comfort to the blind. It seems clear Paton intends Theophilus as a foil, or contrasting character, to John, whose eloquence has a far different effect. As the narrator says, Theophilus sends people "marching to heaven instead of to Pretoria."

Chapter 14 focuses on two principal subjects: the first reunion between Stephen and his only son, Absalom, and the strained interactions between Stephen and his brother, John. As expected, the first meeting with Absalom is highly emotional. Stephen struggles to understand what motivated his son to carry a weapon and then use it with deadly effect. Absalom has still not come to terms with his actions—he blames "bad companions" and the devil for his behavior. However, he tells his father he wishes to marry the woman carrying his child.

As tension-filled as this scene is, the portrayal of Stephen and John is also replete with conflict. John's shallowness is evidenced throughout the chapter, as in his offhand, joking reference to Absalom as "the prodigal" early in the chapter. (This phrase alludes to the parable of the Prodigal Son, found in Luke 15:11-32.) John's face falls, however, when he learns his own son, Matthew, has also been arrested for Arthur Jarvis's murder. Later in the chapter, John's spirits recover. After his meeting with Matthew, he tells Stephen they will immediately engage a lawyer, implying the lawyer will secure an acquittal for Matthew and the third companion. John does not seem to care what may happen to Absalom.

Two minor characters play significant roles in this chapter. The first, Father Vincent, is mentioned only briefly—when he offers to do anything he can to help Stephen. This offer is recalled in the final line of the chapter. The second character is the young reformatory official, whose actions and outlook seem ambivalent. On the one hand, he aids Stephen and Theophilus by escorting them to the prison. On the other hand, he seems selfish and anxious when he grumbles that Absalom's arrest will stain the reputation of the reformatory, and also when he loudly asserts his work is not concerned with lawyers, but with rehabilitation.

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