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Cry, the Beloved Country | Study Guide

Alan Paton

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Cry, the Beloved Country | Book 1, Chapters 15–17 | Summary



Chapter 15

As this chapter opens, the young reformatory official arrives at Mrs. Lithebe's to apologize to Stephen for his words spoken out of anger. He urges Stephen to find an honest but competent lawyer to defend Absalom.

At the Mission House, Father Vincent promises Stephen he will locate an advocate for Absalom. He will also try to arrange for Absalom's marriage. Father Vincent speaks privately with Stephen, who tells him he feels like a man who is sleeping in the grass while a great storm gathers in the sky above him, and then breaks on him as he is unaware. Father Vincent tries to comfort Stephen, telling him sorrow is better than fear and rebuilding is possible. Absalom will have the chance to repent and amend his life, and such actions will be beneficial. He exhorts Stephen to pray, and he assures him he will pray for Stephen night and day.

Chapter 16

The following day, Stephen takes the train to the district of Pimville, where he finds Absalom's girlfriend. Stephen tries to ascertain her willingness and readiness for marriage and a new life, committed to fidelity and the rearing of her child. After taunting her to some degree—and even broaching the possibility that he might press himself upon her sexually—Stephen departs with the bracing feeling this young woman might come to live a life of quietness some day in Ndotsheni.

Chapter 17

This chapter is divided into three parts. In the first, Paton provides the perspective of Mrs. Lithebe. In contrast to many of the black characters portrayed in Johannesburg, Mrs. Lithebe leads a relatively comfortable life, due to the prosperous career of her late husband in the building trade. She was left childless with a large house. Now her house has become a temporary home for Stephen and his sister, Gertrude. She sympathizes with the suffering of the elderly priest. When requested by Stephen, Mrs. Lithebe agrees to take in Absalom's girlfriend, and devotes her energies to training her in proper behavior in a "decent home."

In the second part of the chapter, Stephen visits Absalom in prison. He tells his son it may be possible for him to marry the girl, and also that he may be represented by a lawyer. The tension persists between father and son, though, as Stephen wrestles with feelings of both anger and compassion.

Back at the Mission House, Father Vincent introduces Stephen to the lawyer he has recruited, a highly respected white man named Mr. Carmichael. Over tea, they discuss Absalom's case, which Carmichael says he will take "pro deo" (meaning pro bono, or "for no payment"). Carmichael sets the guidelines for how the case will proceed. Stephen is deeply moved by the lawyer's agreement to assume the case for no payment.


The return of the white reformatory official and his apology to Stephen introduce Chapter 15 on a poignant note. The young white man raises the topic of engaging a lawyer to represent Absalom. Chapter 15 thus complements and extends prior impressions of the young white man. Like many individuals in South African society, he is pulled in conflicting directions. Paton's portrait of a turbulent society in flux is vivid and realistic.

The encounter between Stephen and Father Vincent is equally moving, if not more so. Father Vincent is a man of great faith, but also of great practicality. Nevertheless, he finds his counseling ability pushed to the limit by Stephen's simple, but striking parable of a man who sleeps in the grass while a storm breaks out above him. Father Vincent tries to improve Stephen's morale by pointing out that, although the ways of God may be mysterious, human beings are still capable of repentance and rehabilitation.

Stephen's interview with Absalom's girlfriend in Pimville in Chapter 16 resembles his first reunion with his sister, Gertrude, in Chapter 6. Once again, the elderly priest's pity wrestles with his anger—even to the point, in this scene, where he cruelly taunts the girl for her sexual promiscuity. Yet, as Father Vincent had predicted in the previous chapter, good may come out of evil, for the girl is brought to acknowledge what she desires now is a quiet life.

The character of Mrs. Lithebe is fleshed out in Chapter 17. Paton uses repetition to great effect in his account of this woman's compassion for Stephen's "mold of suffering." Although Mrs. Lithebe has been left a childless widow, great emphasis is laid here on her maternal qualities, as she "trains" both Gertrude and Absalom's girlfriend.

During Stephen's meeting with Absalom in this chapter, Paton briefly employs a striking technique in which the narrator uses apostrophe to address one of the characters. "Old man, leave him alone. You lead him ... far and then you spring upon him," the narrator says directly to Stephen.

Mr. Carmichael's assumption of Absalom's case is due, in large measure, to Father Vincent's intervention. But it is also clear Carmichael is a professional of great achievement and integrity. Stephen is stunned, and then overwhelmed, that Carmichael will take the case "pro deo" (literally meaning "for God").

The end of Chapter 17 marks the conclusion of Book 1. The plot has left many questions unanswered. What will happen to Absalom? To Stephen? And what part will James Jarvis, the father of the murdered man, play in these events?

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