Cry, the Beloved Country | Study Guide

Alan Paton

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Cry, the Beloved Country | Book 1, Chapters 7–8 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 7

Just as Chapter 6 featured Stephen's reunion with his sister, Gertrude, Chapter 7 focuses on his reunion with his brother, John. An erstwhile carpenter, John has used his forceful personality and his public speaking skills to project himself into a career in politics. During Stephen's visit, John strings together a series of pronouncements on South African society, claiming all the while to be the voice of progress, reform, and social advancement. Stephen can barely recognize his brother. When he asks John about Absalom's whereabouts, John evades the question at first, but then provides a lead.

After saying their farewells, Stephen and Theophilus discuss social change in the country and the significance of people like John grasping for political power. Theophilus confesses he fears hatred will win out over reconciliation between the races. They find that the lead provided by John is only mildly productive.

Chapter 8

The following day, as Theophilus and Stephen start off from the Mission House to continue their search for Absalom, they encounter a bus boycott organized by blacks. They are determined to reach the distant district of Alexandra, however. As they walk, they are aided by a white driver who offers them a lift in his car.

In Alexandra, they interview Mrs. Mkize, a person identified by a contact in Sophiatown who was, in turn, identified by some of the contacts provided by John Kumalo. In their dialogue with Mrs. Mkize, Theophilus and Stephen learn that Absalom and his companions have been involved in robberies. Following a lead provided by Mrs. Mkize, they question a taxi-driver named Hlabeni. Their journey brings them once again into contact with the boycott, in which some black pedestrians are being aided by white motorists.

Analysis

By now, the trajectory of the plot in Book 1 of the novel has narrowed down into a single-minded search for Absalom Kumalo. The search is paced rather like the movement of a detective story, with one clue or witness leading to another. As the trail grows warmer, more and more ominous signs appear. For example, Mrs. Ndlela says in Chapter 7 she didn't like Absalom's companions, and in Chapter 8, Mrs. Mkize specifically names stolen goods such as clothes, watches, and money. It is strongly implied Absalom has fallen in with a group that makes its living off of petty crime. Putting the clues together, the reader may reasonably infer that John Kumalo's son, Absalom's first cousin, is part of this group.

Perhaps the most notable characterization in these chapters is that of John Kumalo. He is described as "fat," "cunning," and "knowing." But the most remarkable aspect of his portrayal is Paton's account of John's voice and its effects on others. The voice is said to be thunderous and compelling, simultaneously magnetic and fearsome. Stephen feels his brother, John, has been transformed into a new man.

John, whom Paton compares to a tribal chief, expresses dangerously radical opinions. For example, he strongly criticizes the living conditions of black mine workers, from whose sweat and toil South Africa's wealth has flowed into white hands. Notably, such sentiments are presented as terrifying, rather than inspiring. Something about John is deeply disturbing to his brother—and it is not merely that John has left the church. Rather, it is that John's rabble-rousing could easily lead to mass violence. Theophilus also emphasizes that John's political style appeals to divisiveness and hate.

In Chapter 8, Mrs. Mkize produces crucial information that will soon tie in with the most important plot development in the novel: the arrest of Absalom Kumalo for the murder of Arthur Jarvis, committed in the course of a petty robbery. The dialogue in the meeting with Mrs. Mkize is notable for its emphasis on the theme of fear. In fact, both she and Stephen seem to have a sixth sense that the information she possesses may lead to a crisis for Stephen's son. For the moment, however, Theophilus and Stephen derive minor reassurance from Mrs. Mkize's statement that she had never seen any blood on the stolen goods.

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