Cry, the Beloved Country | Study Guide

Alan Paton

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Cry, the Beloved Country | Book 2, Chapters 20–21 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 20

In this chapter, the character transformation of James Jarvis foreshadowed in Chapter 19 is further advanced. James visits the home of his deceased son, Arthur, examining books, papers, and letters. He gradually acquires a sense of his son's interests and opinions—especially of Arthur's admiration for U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator who freed slaves in the Southern states during the American Civil War, and strove to bind the nation's wounds at the close of that bloody conflict.

The centerpiece of the chapter is the fragmentary extract from a manuscript on which Arthur was working when he was shot. In this manuscript, Arthur focused on family life, native education, the tribal system, and interracial relations, especially the policy of segregation. As James reads the manuscript, he becomes more and more caught up in meditation and reflection. Drawing a book from its case in Arthur's library, James reads Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address," the famous speech in which Lincoln paid tribute to those who sacrificed their lives to preserve the Union. (The speech was delivered at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the site of a critical Civil War battle in early July 1863.)

Chapter 21

This chapter opens at the conclusion of the funeral service for Arthur in Parkwold Church in Johannesburg. Pride in his son wells up in James's heart, and he shakes hands with the black well-wishers, departing from the usual custom.

Mr. Harrison attempts to console Jarvis by telling him the police are on the case. It is to be hoped they will apprehend Arthur's murderers and "string 'em all up." Mr. Harrison elaborates on native crime and police protection, stating ominously, "The natives ... are getting out of hand." Of particular concern is the threat by black miners to strike. The mines, says Mr. Harrison, are the key industry of South Africa, and without them, the country would collapse. James politely prepares to retire for the night, as the two older men are joined by John Harrison. Before he retires, however, James asks John to take him to the African Boys' Club in Claremont, a civic organization Arthur had a special interest in supporting, and John agrees.

The next morning, Mr. Harrison informs James the police are making definite progress in their investigation of the case. He also gives James a copy of Arthur's manuscript on native crime.

After breakfast, James delves into Arthur's manuscript. In another fragmentary extract, Arthur sets forth the argument that South African Christian civilization is "riddled through and through with dilemma." Hypocritically, South Africans use sophistry—or false argument—to justify repression of the black race. White South Africans do not genuinely desire "the brotherhood of man" in their own country. They withhold both education and opportunity. Arthur's words move James deeply, and he turns again to the texts of Lincoln, reading the 1865 "Second Inaugural Address"—in which the "great president" exhorted his listeners to adopt a policy of reconciliation. At the end of the chapter, James is joined by his wife, to whom he recommends the readings that have prompted his reflections.

Analysis

Significantly, Chapter 20 begins with the brief statement, "Jarvis sat in the chair of his son." It is as if Paton is preparing the reader for James's awakening to—and adoption of—his son's point of view and social outlook.

Literary and historical topics dominate the chapter, as James quietly peruses the documents, books, and images that had shaped Arthur's viewpoint. The figure and words of Abraham Lincoln are preeminent in this mosaic. Lincoln is celebrated, of course, for his determination to preserve the Union and his opposition to slavery, the institution that dominated the society and economy of the southern United States for several hundred years, dating back to early colonial times. As he reads Arthur's manuscript and ponders the significance of Abraham Lincoln for his son, James is shown to step into a new intellectual and moral world.

In Chapter 21, as James talks once again with Mr. Harrison, the reader has the sense the two older men are being portrayed as foils, or strongly contrasting characters. Mr. Harrison, who professes not to hate blacks, is full of misgivings about native crime and about the threat the black miners pose to the country's economy. Police protection and the safety of whites are uppermost in his mind. James remains quiet and does not dispute the assertions of his host. Yet, it is strongly implied that James has now embarked on a different path, and this implication is reinforced when Mr. Harrison backs down to apologize: "I'm sorry ... I quite forgot myself." When James quietly expresses his interest to John Harrison in visiting the African Boys' Club in Claremont, the reader can reasonably infer that Arthur's ideas and principles are making a stronger impression on his father. This is the club whose representative, Washington Lefifi, wrote so appreciatively to Arthur in the correspondence cited in Chapter 20.

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