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Cry, the Beloved Country | Study Guide

Alan Paton

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Cry, the Beloved Country | Book 3, Chapters 34–36 | Summary



Chapter 34

Everyone in Ndotsheni has been preparing for the bishop's visit, who is coming to preside at the ceremony of confirmation for youngsters at St. Mark's Church. But that very morning, news arrives of the death of Margaret, James's wife. Grieving, Stephen writes James a letter of condolence and has it delivered to High Place.

After the confirmation, the bishop holds a private conference with Stephen, telling him he thinks it is time for Stephen to leave Ndotsheni. The bishop reasons that the proximity of James, and the necessity to build a new church will be stressful burdens for Stephen. Although he remains respectful, it is clear Stephen does not agree with the bishop's reasoning.

During their conference, the boy who delivered Stephen's letter of condolence returns with a message from James. In a brief letter, James thanks Stephen and then discloses that Margaret had wished shortly before she died that a new church be built at Ndotsheni. James assures Stephen they will discuss plans for the new church shortly. Stephen exclaims the message is "from God." Excitedly, he tells the bishop about the milk, the new dam, and the young agricultural demonstrator.

The bishop bids the Kumalo family farewell. Then, turning to Stephen, he says gravely, "I see it is not God's will that you should leave Ndotsheni."

At the end of the chapter, Stephen and some members of his congregation join forces to fashion a sympathy wreath of arum lilies to send to James at High Place.

Chapter 35

This chapter focuses on the agricultural renaissance at Ndotsheni, and on the various disputes and frustrations to which it gives rise. The young agricultural demonstrator must work hard to teach the people new techniques.

Napoleon and Stephen agree the valley is witnessing a resurgence. But they part ways on the subject of James. Whereas Stephen thinks of him with respect and gratitude, Napoleon holds a different view of white benefactors—they are only repaying, he says, what they have earlier confiscated or withheld unjustly from blacks. Stephen reflects that, although he may be scorned as a "white man's dog," he is now too old to change his ways.

Chapter 36

In the novel's final chapter, Stephen steels himself for the emotional ordeal of the 15th of the month, when his son, Absalom, will be hanged for murder. He tells his wife he will go to the mountain, as he has done at other critical times during his life.

After a poignant farewell to James, Stephen embarks on his vigil. He gives thanks for his blessings, and he prays for absolution of his sins. After a night of fitful sleep, he watches the sunrise, knowing he has now lost Absalom. But his hope for a newly enlightened South Africa endures.


Stephen's encounter with the bishop in Chapter 34 is masterfully presented—again with significant, experimental stylistic touches. Paton punctuates the dialogue with interior monologue, managing to present Stephen's inner thoughts that run counter to the bishop's drift. Stephen's respectful treatment of the bishop—whom he calls "my lord"—follows the Anglican customs of the period. Due to Jarvis's spectacular munificence in offering to build a new church, the bishop is compelled to back down on his plan to reassign Stephen.

In Chapter 35, the debate between Stephen and the young agricultural expert may seem like something of a let-down, considering the gradual crescendo of hope for Ndotsheni in Book 3. Paton may be presenting views that were current at the time. Surely, it is conceivable some blacks regarded white intervention as nothing more than compensation for past injustices. Yet, Stephen holds steadfast in his commitment to compassion and reconciliation—and especially to his bond with James. They are related emotionally in a very special way, and Stephen cannot gainsay the relationship.

The scene of the final chapter may be interpreted symbolically, considering so many of the important scenes in the Bible take place on mountaintops or mountainsides (for example, Moses receiving the Ten Commandments; Jesus's transfiguration; and the Sermon on the Mount). This chapter offers a recapitulation of the novel's action and major themes, as well as a final farewell between Stephen and James. Stephen's experience is profoundly spiritual, as he is led to offer thanksgiving, even on the morning of his son's execution. The "dawn" Paton describes in the final paragraph is, in large part, metaphorical—a dawn of "emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear."

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