Cry, the Beloved Country | Study Guide

Alan Paton

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Cry, the Beloved Country | Book 2, Chapters 26–27 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 26

Like Chapters 9 and 12, Chapter 26 offers an experimental collage of different viewpoints, unattributed snatches of dialogue, and fragmentary narrative sequences. The action revolves around John Kumalo's fiery speeches at public rallies and around a strike of black miners.

One of John's most distinctive characteristics is his "great bull voice," which is said to contain both "magic" and "threatening." The presentation of John in Chapter 26 is ambiguous, since John is said to both know, and fear his own power. His typical routine seems to be to fire up his listeners, but then to stop just short of the point where his rhetoric would boil over into bloody violence, or where he might be arrested or shot by police. In various snatches of dialogue, the police believe John is dangerous, while Theophilus thinks he is corrupt. In a telling comment, the narrator implies that John's objective is applause.

James Jarvis and John Harrison have a brief exchange of dialogue in which James wants to avoid the rally, and visit the African Boys' Club supported by his son, Arthur.

A police captain named Harry and a senior officer discuss John Kumalo's rhetorical power and also the possibility of a strike.

In the end, a strike involving 300,000 black miners takes place, but it results in remarkably little violence and loss of life. At the annual Synod of the Diocese of Johannesburg, one member proposes it is time to recognize the African Mine Workers' Union.

Chapter 27

This chapter forms an interlude. It centers on Mrs. Lithebe, Gertrude, and Absalom's girlfriend. At the outset, Mrs. Lithebe reproaches Gertrude for not having sufficiently reformed her manners. She is still speaking and laughing idly with people who are not respectable, and is causing her brother, Stephen, further pain in this period of anxiety and distress.

A woman arrives with the newspaper, which carries a headline about a new case of "native crime," and the murder of a European in the city. Mrs. Lithebe and Theophilus want to prevent Stephen from seeing the paper, for they think it will upset him. Absalom's trial is scheduled to end the following day, and the news headline may influence the judge. So, arrangements are made to hold the evening meal at Mrs. Lithebe's, rather than at the Mission House.

Stephen and Absalom's girlfriend join the group. After dinner, they go to the church for a meeting. A black woman addresses the audience about her calling to become a nun. Afterward, Gertrude confesses to Mrs. Lithebe that she might find a vocation as a nun appealing. She also confides her new idea to Absalom's girlfriend, and elicits her promise that, if she follows through, the girlfriend will care for Gertrude's young son.

Analysis

Paton's experimental narrative technique in Chapter 26 has a number of advantages. First, it allows him to convey the confusion and conflicting perspectives of the day. "The times are anxious," declares the narrator in this chapter. The crowds are both angry and fearful; John Kumalo is both a demagogue and something of a coward; and the police are both ambivalent and cynical. The author's presentation vividly communicates such clashes.

Paton's technique also acts to build suspense, or a feeling of tension and uncertainty about what may happen next. The major focus of the suspense in this chapter is the miners' strike. Thankfully, the strike comes and goes without much incident.

Finally, the author's narrative technique highlights the complexity of South Africa's social problems. Paton explicitly stresses this complexity near the end of the chapter, when he speaks of "many sides to this difficult problem." Not many people, Paton implies, have thought about South Africa's dilemmas with the precision, persistence, and insights of Arthur Jarvis.

Chapter 27 offers a striking contrast to the social portrait in Chapter 26. Here the reader returns to the domestic perspective of Mrs. Lithebe, who has gradually assumed a significant role as a stand-in mother for Stephen, his sister, Gertrude, and Absalom's pregnant girlfriend. Theophilus remarks to her, "Indeed, mother, you are always our helper." To which Mrs. Lithebe replies, simply but eloquently, "For what else are we born?"

Mrs. Lithebe's reproaches of Gertrude may seem petty on one level, but arguably the author's purpose here is to suggest how challenging the true and lasting reformation of one's life can be. The depiction of Gertrude here foreshadows, to some degree, her disappearance in Chapter 29.

Gertrude's sudden aspiration to become a nun—prompted by the presentation of a black woman at the church meeting—may seem unrealistic at first. Gertrude seems to be grasping at straws in her effort to turn over a new leaf. Once again, however, Paton's purpose is subtle. He suggests Gertrude's self-esteem has diminished to the point that she will go to any extreme to please others who seem dissatisfied with her behavior—especially her brother, Stephen, and Mrs. Lithebe. The new turn in Gertrude's characterization leads to the tender scene at the end of the chapter between her and Absalom's girlfriend. Gertrude's provision for her own young son—ostensibly motivated by the possibility that she may become a nun—appears in its true light once she disappears in Chapter 29.

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