Cry, the Beloved Country | Study Guide

Alan Paton

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Cry, the Beloved Country | Book 1, Chapters 5–6 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 5

Chapter 5 centers on Stephen's first impressions of Mission House, on what he is able to learn at the start of his visit about conditions in Johannesburg, and especially about his missing family members in the big city. None of what he learns is especially encouraging.

The chapter begins with a humorous demonstration of Stephen's lack of familiarity with modern conveniences, as he and Theophilus visit the washroom before a meal. Both white and black priests are seated at the table. The company discusses the "sickness of the land," or the breakdown of agriculture in the countryside, as well as the increasing prevalence of native crime.

Privately, Theophilus discusses Gertrude's situation with Stephen. Gertrude had originally traveled to Johannesburg in search of her husband, who had been recruited to work in the mines. Now, according to Theophilus, Gertrude's life has taken a turn for the worse. She is involved with many men and with the making and selling of liquor. She has become a prostitute, and has served time in prison. Worst of all, she has a young child living with her.

Stephen also asks about Absalom, his son, and about John, his brother. Perhaps Gertrude may help to locate Absalom, says Theophilus. John, a carpenter by profession, has now turned into one of the most prominent black politicians, and wants nothing further to do with the church. He is calling vociferously for social and political reforms.

At the end of the chapter, Theophilus escorts Stephen to the lodgings he has found for him, a room provided by Mrs. Lithebe, a member of the church.

Chapter 6

In this chapter, set in the nearby district of Claremont, Stephen finds his sister, Gertrude. He is shocked by her shabby and squalid living conditions, and tells her angrily she has brought shame upon their family, but quickly regains his composure. Gertrude can offer only vague news about Absalom, telling her brother the best lead to his whereabouts will be John's son, whom Absalom has befriended. Stephen arranges for Gertrude and her child to move and take up residence at Mrs. Lithebe's house.

Analysis

These chapters mingle some of the major problems of South African society at large with Stephen's specific concerns—the whereabouts and activities of his close relatives. Considering the strong emphasis thus far on Johannesburg as a center of violence, political ferment, and petty crime, it is suggested that Gertrude, Absalom, and John may be involved in dangerous pursuits.

Readers alert to Paton's habitual use of biblical allusions will take a cue from Absalom's name. A son of King David, Absalom rebelled against his father and was ultimately killed, to David's great grief (2 Samuel 13-19). The name implies that Absalom, who had traveled to Johannesburg in search of Gertrude, has fallen on evil days, and future events will soon bear out this inference.

At several points in the novel, Paton portrays Stephen realistically as a human being who is tempted or conflicted by strong emotions. In Chapter 6, his anger with Gertrude clashes with his compassion, which ultimately wins out in a display of "deep gentleness."

At the end of Chapter 6, with his apparent reclaiming of Gertrude, Stephen experiences a wave of euphoria. After a single day in Johannesburg, he feels "the tribe was being rebuilt." The reader will learn shortly that Stephen's feelings of relief and happiness are premature.

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