Cry, the Beloved Country | Study Guide

Alan Paton

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Cry, the Beloved Country | Book 2, Chapters 18–19 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 18

The opening of this chapter is copied verbatim from the opening of Chapter 1, as Paton describes the landscape near Ndotsheni. Here, however, the focus shifts to High Place, the extensive estate of James Jarvis, the father of Arthur Jarvis.

On a tour of his estate, James gloomily surveys the condition of the farmland. Drought and erosion have severely afflicted the land's productivity and yield. As he savors the spectacular views, he thinks of his only son, Arthur, whom he wished had remained at High Place to inherit the property, as James had from his father. Arthur, however, had different ideas, preferring to study engineering. He had made a good marriage, and presented James with a pair of fine grandchildren.

As James is preoccupied with these thoughts, he sees a car draw up to his house. Out of the car step two policemen. Gently and respectfully, they break the news to James that Arthur has been shot dead that very day in Johannesburg.

Chapter 19

James and his wife, Margaret, are met at the airport in Johannesburg by John Harrison, the brother of Arthur Jarvis's wife, Mary. He takes the couple to his parents' home. The Jarvis family must identify the body of their son at the mortuary. Then James discusses the tragedy with Mr. Harrison. By degrees, James learns of the views of his son on the issue of native crime, as well as on a number of other social questions. As James and Margaret bid each other goodnight, James reflects that he had never understood, or even taken the trouble to inquire into, his son's approach to South Africa's social issues.

Analysis

At the outset of Book 2, the verbatim repetition in Chapter 18 of the opening lines of Chapter 1 strongly hints that this new phase of the plot will contain parallels and symmetries with the story in the first half of the book. This suggestion is confirmed when the reader considers the evocative parallels between the two elderly male characters, Stephen Kumalo and James Jarvis. The men are practically neighbors, one black and poor, the other white and affluent. Both are deeply concerned about the deterioration of the farmlands around them. Both men have sons who have left their native place for Johannesburg and branched out in different directions. Absalom Kumalo has slipped into a life of petty crime, while Arthur Jarvis has dedicated himself to social reform. At first, neither Stephen nor James can understand the directions their sons' lives have taken.

Tragedy has befallen both sets of fathers and sons. James's son has been mortally shot, and Absalom has been arrested for the murder. In the blink of an eye, both fathers' lives have been torn apart. Paton suggests a parallel between Stephen's reference in Chapter 15 to a sudden storm, and Jarvis's experience of a tragedy from "a cloudless sky."

The narrative of Chapter 19 introduces the development of James Jarvis as a dynamic character. He changes from a quietly uninformed observer of society into a passionately involved convert to the progressive convictions of his son. He listens to the stories of Mr. Harrison about his son—a "tale of a stranger." He ponders the journeying of his son "in strange waters," as well as the fact he himself "had never done such journeying." By the end of Chapter 19, he is ready to admit to his wife he had never known how important it would be to understand Arthur's principles and his commitment to social change.

The gradual change in James's outlook is a crucial element in one of Paton's major themes in the novel—the emphasis on compassion and reconciliation. James's altered understanding of South Africa and of human relationships will ultimately lead to comradeship—rather than to revenge—with Stephen.

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