Cry, the Beloved Country | Study Guide

Alan Paton

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Cry, the Beloved Country | Book 2, Chapters 28–29 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 28

This chapter narrates the climax of Absalom's court case. The court releases Matthew Kumalo and Johannes Pafuri. The judge reviews the case in detail. He then finds Absalom Kumalo guilty of the murder of Arthur Jarvis, and sentences him to death by hanging. Theophilus and the young white official at the reformatory aid a shattered Stephen in leaving the courtroom.

Chapter 29

This lengthy, incident-filled chapter begins with the prison wedding of Absalom and his girlfriend, with the marriage conducted by Father Vincent. It is then time for father and son to say their farewells. Stephen says he will return to Ndotsheni the following day. After attending to some small financial matters, Absalom breaks down in tears, and confesses that he is terribly afraid of the hanging. Although the white warder (prison guard) sternly tells Stephen he must leave, Absalom continues to cling to his father's knees. In a wrenching scene, Stephen must watch as his son is dragged away from him.

After his visit to the prison, Stephen visits his brother's carpentry shop. John greets him with platitudes. They speak briefly of the trial, with Stephen hinting plainly at the injustice that has been done. Stephen then asks about John's politics. John becomes defensive, then aggressive. Stephen yields to a temptation when he deceitfully suggests spies visit John's shop and report his radical opinions to the authorities. The brothers quarrel bitterly, and John forces Stephen out of the shop, locking the door. Stephen feels ashamed and humiliated, knowing that "brother had shut out brother."

James Jarvis and his wife are about to leave Johannesburg after the trial, and they bid farewell to the Harrisons. Mr. Harrison says he feels the verdict was just. Just before he leaves, James takes young John Harrison aside and gives him an envelope. It contains a large contribution to support the African Boys' Club, which will be renamed the Arthur Jarvis Club.

The final episode in this chapter narrates another departure—that of Stephen and his family members. There is a party at Mrs. Lithebe's house, hosted by Theophilus. Mrs. Lithebe does not make a speech, but one of her neighbors delivers a lengthy oration. Theophilus shares with the group that he has made an important decision—he intends to retire from the world to become the first black monk in South Africa.

At the party's end, Theophilus and Stephen walk to the gate. Theophilus tells Stephen that, before entering the monastic community, he wants to turn over his savings to him. Stephen is overwhelmed with emotion. He calls Theophilus "friend of friends." The gift is over 33 pounds—more money than Stephen and his wife have ever possessed.

Early the following morning, Stephen prepares for the return journey to Ndotsheni, but he finds Gertrude has disappeared, having left behind the garments he bought for her. This chapter brings Book 2 of the novel to an end.

Analysis

These two chapters contain some of the most dramatic episodes in the novel. The courtroom scene and the result of the trial in Chapter 28 may seem like foregone conclusions. Nonetheless, it is interesting to see how Paton presents the judge's reasoning. The basic argument is that the court's responsibility is to apply existing law, rather than to modify or reinterpret it. However, the reader knows Matthew and Johannes are being released as the result of the crooked dealing of a corrupt lawyer, hired by John Kumalo. The two young people have perjured themselves, claiming they were not present at the crime scene. Mr. Carmichael, brilliant as he is, has failed to sway the court with his arguments focused on social justice. Absalom is doomed.

In Chapter 29, a fast-paced series of events involves many of the novel's principal characters. The first episode in this chapter places the spotlight on Stephen and Absalom. This is the last time father and son will see each other. If no mercy is granted by judicial officials, Absalom will be executed by hanging in Pretoria, South Africa's capital city, after Stephen has returned to Ndotsheni.

After the prison wedding presided over by Father Vincent, the scene between father and son is skillfully paced. Stephen and Absalom discuss financial details and Absalom's wishes for the naming of his unborn child. But the two must then face the ultimate issue—Absalom's hanging. Absalom breaks down in terror. At this point, the white warder intervenes in order to separate father and son, thereby increasing the tension. Finally, the jailers must physically separate Absalom from his father, dragging away the young man. It is one of the most affecting scenes in the entire novel.

Stephen's next visit, to his brother, John, also becomes highly emotional, proceeding from a relatively mild beginning to a bitter end. Since John has plotted to have his own son Matthew released, the reader can imagine Stephen's feelings of bitterness. John's superficiality and pompous self-satisfaction are on display from the beginning of the scene. He seeks refuge in petty distractions such as platitudes, when he says, "Well, well." Once again, he refers to the parable of the prodigal son, but seems oblivious to Stephen's pointed allusion to a "great Judge"—namely, God.

The conversation spirals downward when Stephen yields to temptation. He lies, baiting his brother with the suggestion that spies have infiltrated the shop and are reporting John to the authorities. Fearful and angry, John finally loses control when Stephen bitterly refers to Absalom's two "friends" (Matthew and Johannes) as traitors. John explodes and expels Stephen from his shop. Although John has behaved brutishly, it is Stephen who feels ashamed. Earlier in the novel, the reader has seen him struggle with temptation. This time, he has finally succumbed.

In the final scene, the emphasis shifts. The highlight is the farewell between Theophilus and Stephen. From Chapter 5 onward, Theophilus has been Stephen's stalwart guide, supporter, and friend. Paton has been clear that Theophilus, too, has his temptations and limitations. Compared to Stephen, Theophilus is wiser in the ways of the world, and almost cynical in his assessment of human nature, especially having lived in Johannesburg. On the other hand, his capacity for sympathy, uplift, and eloquence is strongly brought out in Paton's characterization. He is able to console Stephen in some of Stephen's bleakest moments.

How can Gertrude's sudden disappearance at the end of this chapter be explained? The reader will realize her conversion to a new lifestyle has always been tentative and partial. Symbolically, she leaves behind the new dress and turban Stephen had provided as garments for her new life.

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