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Cry, the Beloved Country | Study Guide

Alan Paton

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Cry, the Beloved Country | Book 2, Chapters 22–23 | Summary



Chapter 22

In this chapter, the focus and tone of the narrative shift. Paton trains his spotlight on the court in which Absalom, Matthew, and a third defendant named Johannes Pafuri will be tried for the murder of Arthur Jarvis. The conventions, traditions, and formalities of the court take center stage.

After a brief introduction, a series of interrogations present the initial phases of the case. The unattributed fragments of dialogue dramatize the interaction between the prosecution and Absalom Kumalo. Absalom, like his co-defendants, has pleaded not guilty to the charge of murder, since the prosecutor has disallowed a plea for the charge of culpable homicide. In the questioning, particular emphasis is laid on Absalom's acquisition, use, and disposal of his revolver.

When the session is adjourned, blacks and whites file out of the courtroom through separate doors, "according to the custom." Stephen, together with Theophilus, Gertrude, and Mrs. Lithebe, overhears people pointing out James Jarvis as the father of the murdered man. Stephen begins to tremble.

Chapter 23

In this chapter, the narrator digresses to focus on a new gold discovery in South Africa in the province of the Orange Free State at a place called Odendaalsrust. News of this discovery diverts attention away from Absalom's trial. Excitement has galvanized Johannesburg, and fresh riches are being predicted for the country: "South Africa is wonderful."


Chapter 22 conveys numerous facts and details about South African court procedure at the time of Absalom's murder trial. The overriding literary feature of the chapter, however, is its solemn tone. Power here resides in the judge, whose presence and authority overshadow every other entity or dimension. The judge carries out of the law. At the same time, the laws are made by white people. Therefore, by implication, there is no unbiased administration or implementation of the laws.

Paton employs a simple, but effective strategy to suggest the impersonality and inevitability of the legal process: isolated snippets of question-and-answer—prosecutor and defendant. Slowly, inexorably, the net tightens around Absalom. The kernel of his defense—that he shot Arthur Jarvis out of fear and not out of premeditated malice—is whittled away and demolished in the end.

Chapter 23 displays an overwhelmingly sarcastic tone. Considering Paton's previous emphasis on the gold-mining industry, this digression is understandable. But the chapter does not offer a substantial contribution to the novel's narrative arc. It is almost as if the author is taking time off to mock the greed and self-interest of white South Africans, both English and Afrikaner.

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