“Cry, the Beloved Country” is a wonderful story of the struggles of apartheid in South Africa written by Alan Paton first published in 1948. It is a story of the deep love of a country. It tells of the decay of tribal culture and the overcrowding in the cities, that can lead to crime. The book begins with an impoverished town in South Africa and an old priest who is worried about his family. His brother left years ago, his sister’s husband left, and she left to find him, and then his son left to find his aunt. None of them have written with words. So, he worries.
One day he receives a letter from a fellow priest in Johannesburg. His sister is sick and needs him. When the old man arrives he finds her living as a prostitute. He cleans her up and brings her and her young son to his lodgings. He tries to find his son, but it takes quite a while. When he does find him the son is in prison for murder and has gotten a girl pregnant. After his son is sentenced to hang, the old man takes his nephew, (his sister has disappeared, presumably to become a nun) and his son’s new wife home to his parish.
While this story is playing out in the book, another more powerful story is happening in South Africa. Apartheid. The native Africans are being ripped away from their tribal ways. All of the good land in the country has gone to the white men. The natives are left with the unhealthy land. As the farms fail, the young people go into Johannesburg to seek their fortunes. Tribes are losing their strength. Only the very old and the very young and women are in the villages. Instead of providing housing for families, the mines, where the jobs are, only provide dorms for men. This splits up families. This is destroying the tribal consciousness. The chiefs have lost their power.
As people stream into the city, the housing becomes more and more scarce. As people cram in together into tight spaces, tempers fray. Alcohol becomes the balm to end a frustrating day. But, alcohol can lead to fighting which leads to crime. Drugs begin to show their heads. Stealing is the quickest way to feed the addictions. It becomes a vicious cycle; no job, no money, theft, jail, no job, etc. Every time a person goes to jail, the crime escalates. A person with a record has an even harder time finding a job. And, a young person who was raised in a trusting environment is easily taken in with an undesirable company. They search for a tribal feeling of togetherness and find the tribes broken beyond repair.
This book follows a country struggling to find a way into a more fair society. To finally find their own Abraham Lincoln and his words. It tells of a native people who dearly love their country, but fear for it and weep for it.Summary:
Our story opens on a beautiful morning in South Africa. There is the lovely village of Carisbrooke, just seven miles up the road from Ixpo. The grass is a wave of green lushness, the stream tinkles past, the birds sing and the trees dance to their music. But, that is not the village our story is based in. Ndotsheni is that village. Here the grass has been destroyed by overgrazing cattle and fire. The water is gone. When rain does come, it’s in the form of storms and the red dirt of the land runs like blood. The crops are feeble and dry. In Ndotsheni only the old and women, alone, with children live. They scrape out a meager living. When the children grow to adulthood, they leave.
Among the young people who have left is Reverend Stephen Kumalo’s son, Absalom. It’s been a long time since the Reverend heard from his son, so his hopes raise some when a letter arrives. He sees the letter is from Johannesburg, but so much of his family lives there now. It could be his brother, John, or his sister, Gertrude. She is twenty-five years younger than him. She left for Johannesburg to find her husband who had left her and their new baby. A few years ago, his son, Absalom left to find his aunt, and Stephen hasn’t heard from either of them.
Stephen is reluctant to open the letter. He knows that once he reads it, it will change his future. It can never be unread. When his wife comes in, she also, at first hopes and fears it is from or about their son. So, she opens it quickly. The letter is from a priest in Sophiatown, Johannesburg, Theophilus Msimangu. He is writing about John’s sister, Gertrude. She is very ill, and he requests that Stephen comes right away. When his wife asks him what he plans to do, Kumalo says he will use the money they had saved for their son’s education to make the trip. While he is holding the money in his hand, he studies it, hoping to see some answer in it. When she sees him, his wife says he should go ahead and use it, Absalom will never use it for school, once a young person goes to Johannesburg, they never return.
Stephen begins to rage, his son leaves, his brother, his sister. No word from any of them. Not one letter. Do they not understand how worried he is? His wife begs him to relax, he’s hurting himself. He realizes his anger is hurting his wife so, he relents. They gather all the money they have saved for other things. He doesn’t know how much he will need, so he should take all they have. As she watches him leave to pray at the church, then she puts her head down on the table “with the patient suffering of black women, with the suffering of oxen, with the suffering of any that are mute.” Stephen leaves for the city the next day. The mist comes in while he is waiting for the train. Some people see the mist as ominous and others see it as promising, it depends on why they are leaving. But, Stephen doesn’t see it at all. He is too worried about his sister, and whether he will see his son. While he is waiting for a friend is with him. Before Stephen can board the train the friend asks him to check on his friend’s daughter. She, too, went to away and he hasn’t heard from her. She is in the small town of Springs, by Johannesburg. Stephen tells his friend, that though he will be busy he will try to take the time out to go to Springs and check up on the girl. Then Stephen sits down to worry. But, when he pulls out his Bible and begins to read, he finds comfort.
By the time the train reaches Johannesburg, they have traveled a full day and night. They have gone through mining towns, with huge conveyors that bring the ore up from the ground where the black men work. When they disembark from the train, Stephen is overwhelmed by the vast amounts of people and the traffic. He carefully winds his way through the crowds, but only makes it as far as the traffic light. He doesn’t understand how they work and is unable to move. A young man comes up to him, asks him where he is headed. Stephen tells him Sophiatown, so the young man takes him to the bus station. He has Stephen wait in line while he takes Stephens money for a bus ticket. Stephen is leery, but wants to show trust, so he gives him a pound of his meager savings.
After a while, Stephen realizes the young man stole from him. Stephen meets another man who is also going to the mission at Sophiatown. They ride the bus together. The man takes him straight to Mr. Msimangu at the mission. The news is not good. Stephen learns of all the violence happening in Johannesburg. The whites are afraid of the blacks, and the blacks are being attacked, too. When he asks about his sister, he finds out she has become a prostitute. The Msimangu tells him that she has her son with her, but, it is not a place for a boy. When Stephen inquiries about his brother, John, he is told that John is a local politician and has left his church. He knows nothing of Absalom, but will ask around. They talk about the broken tribes of the white men. Although neither of them hates the white men, since they brought God to them. They are saddened by the way they have broken the tribal structure. Msimangu takes Stephen to the lodgings he had arranged for him. His room is with a local church lady, Mrs. Lithebe. For the first time, Stephen uses a flush toilet and is amazed. When he goes to bed, Stephen is amazed that such a short time ago he was with his wife.
The next morning Msimangu takes Stephen to find his sister, Gertrude. The neighborhood she lives in is disgusting. The gangs fight and the children run wild in the streets because the schools don’t have room for them. When he finds her, the change from happy girl to a sullen alcoholic prostitute is obvious. She never found her husband. When he asks to see her son, she doesn’t know where he is. Stephen tells her she has shamed the family. Stephen asks Gertrude if she has seen Absalom, she says he spends time with their brother, John’s son. He wants her to come back with him. He will get a room for her at the place he is staying and they will return home. Stephen feels that he has accomplished some of what he set out to do, and his tribe is slowly getting back together.
The next morning Stephen is writing a letter to his wife while he listens to his sister sing a song while she helps Mrs. Lithebe with the housework. He is happy, today he will start to look for Absalom. Mismangu comes to take Stephen to see his brother, John. When they arrive, Stephen asks Mismangu to come in with him. At first, John doesn’t recognize Stephen. But, soon they are talking over tea. John asks Stephen to talk in English. John tells him that his wife left him ten years ago, and now he has a mistress living with him. John complains that in Ndotsheni he had no status. He had to follow the orders of the tribal chief, who John thought was an idiot. Here, in the city, he is a man of some importance. John also believes the church was too constraining. John begins to orate. As he speaks his voice grows louder and more bombastic. He has the speech of a politician, making promises for a black man’s freedom. He speaks of the black man’s toil building the towers for the white men.
Stephen sits listening to the words but hearing the lies. He asks John what happened to his wife. Why did she leave? Did she value fidelity more than you did? When Stephen has too much of the malignant speech he asks John to switch back from English to Zulu. John’s mistress silently serves them tea, and Stephen steers the conversation from John’s beliefs, even though he does agree somewhat, to his own business. Stephen tells John that he has found Gertrude and now wants to find Absalom who is supposed to be with John’s son. At first, John can’t remember where his own son is, then he recalls they bother work for the textile plant in Alexandra. As they are going to the factory, Msimangu tells Stephen that a lot of what his brother said about the plight of the black man in Africa is true. But, there is only one thing that has power and that is love. When a man loves he seeks no power, and therefore he has power. Msimangu continues by saying he can see only one hope for South Africa, and that is white nor black men desiring money and power, but in desiring only the good for the country, coming together to work for it.
At the factory, Stephen and Msimangu learn that Absalom hasn’t worked there for 12 months. They are told that when he left, he was living with a woman and her husband, Mrs. Ndlela, in Sophiatown. Upon arriving Mrs. Ndlela, Stephen discovers his son left there to go to Alexandra. When Msimangu notices her looking sadly at Stephen he asks her why. She tells him that she thinks he will find his son has fallen in with some bad company.
The two priests start to catch a bus to Alexandra but are stopped by Dubula, one of the three most important black leader in Johannesburg, (John being another one). He tells them the blacks are boycotting the buses because of higher fares and talks them into walking the eleven miles to Alexandra. Along the way, a white man gave them a ride. He went out of his way to give them a ride as far as the turn off for Alexandra. As the men are walking the rest of the way, Msimangu tells Stephen of all the crime in Alexandra. Although it is one of the few towns black men can own property, the crime is so rampant that a petition was put out to demolish it. But, the white men who were friends of the black men fought against it as much as the black men did. They said there was more to Alexandra than the bad, that it was important for a man to have a place of his own.When they arrived at Mrs. Mkize’s house, where Absalom and his cousin had been staying, she said they had left about a year ago. When they asked her where the boys went from there, she didn’t know.
When they arrived at Mrs. Mkize’s house, where Absalom and his cousin had been staying, she said they had left about a year ago. When they asked her where the boys went from there, she didn’t know. When asked how the boys acted, she began to tremble and said they were fine. Msimangu asked Stephen to go ahead down the road to find something cold to drink, and he questioned her further. She was still afraid, but when he swore on the Bible he would not repeat anything she said to the police, she began to talk. She says that the boys often came home with what looked like stolen merchandise. They were friends with a taxi driver called, Hlabeni.
The two priests call Hlabeni for a ride and begin to question him about the boys. At first, the man was afraid, but after they assured him they were not policemen, he tells them the boys went to Orlando and live in Shanty Town, it is where squatters live. As they ride down the road in the taxi, they notice a lot of people walking and white drivers offering them rides. When a white driver is stopped by the police, he tells him to take him to court. The white man is doing nothing wrong, offering to give people rides, so they can boycott an unfair practice is not against the law. Msimangu is amazed that some of the white men would risk prosecution to aid the black men and their rites.
Because of war in Europe and North Africa, the money to build more housing is tied up, therefore, the housing in Johannesburg and the surrounding towns is scarce. But, everyone comes to Johannesburg. That’s where the jobs are, and the taxes are paid. All roads lead to Johannesburg. Where to live once they get there is the problem. The houses are full to bursting. Dubula tells them to set up tents near the railroad tracks. Overnight a Shanty town is built. The newspaper takes pictures, state jumps into action to build houses for the homeless. This is a workable plan to get the government to step in, but, soon more people pour into the city, and think to repeat it. But, this time, the government reacts with anger. They push the people back.In Shanty
In Shanty Town, the priests ask a nurse about Absalom. She sends them to Mrs. Hlatshwayo, with whom Absalom was staying. She tells them Absalom was sent to the reformatory. At the reformatory, they learn Absalom was a model inmate and was released early for good behavior and because of his youth, and so he could take care of his pregnant girlfriend. The man at the reformatory tells Stephen that Absalom was saving money to marry her.
When Msimangu and Stephen find the girl she is tiny and sad. She says Absalom left a few days before and she doesn’t know if she will ever see him again. Msimangu is angry and wants to leave. Stephen says that he doesn’t want to leave his grandchild.The newspaper reports the murder of a noted white man who was going out against crime in the cities and the cruel treatment of blacks, Arthur Jarvis. Stephen remembers the man as a boy. His father’s land was near Stephen’s village. After this, the book leaves the story of Stephen’s hunt for Absalom to tell of the life in South African under apartheid.
The newspaper reports the murder of a noted white man who was going out against crime in the cities and the cruel treatment of blacks, Arthur Jarvis. Stephen remembers the man as a boy. His father’s land was near Stephen’s village. After this, the book leaves the story of Stephen’s hunt for Absalom to tell of the life in South African under apartheid. Stephen and Msimangu renew their search for Absalom. They retrace their steps and discover, the police are also looking for him. When Absalom’s pregnant girlfriend comes to find out what she should do if the police come back, Stephen tells her, to be honest with them. If his son gets into contact with her to call the police and then to call him. Stephen gives her the number where he is staying and pays for the taxi to take her home out of his last few dollars.
Stephen and Msimangu learn that Absalom has been arrested for shooting Arthur Jarvis, and his cousin was an accomplice. Stephen tells John his son is in prison. When the brothers go to see their sons, Stephen finally lays eyes on his son. Absalom is ashamed and admits to shooting Jarvis because he was afraid, and he still wants to marry his girlfriend.
As the men are leaving the prison, they meet with John. He is determined to get a lawyer. He wants to prove his son was not there when the man was shot. Stephen tells him the story Absalom told him, they two other boys helped him break in, but he is the one who fired the gun out of fear. John tells his brother that he will save his own son, but Stephen’s is a lost cause. Stephen is advised to get a lawyer of his own, so John’s lawyer cannot hurt Absalom’s case. The head priest at the church finds a lawyer who will take the case, ‘pro deo’ for God, so Stephen won’t have to pay for the lawyer. Stephen goes to tell Absalom’s girlfriend what was going on. She is lost and confused. At first, Stephen is furious at her promiscuity, but he finally asks her to come home to Ndotsheni after she marries his son. He then takes her back to Mrs. Lithebe’s house to wait for the trial and so he can care for her and her unborn child.
Book two opens back in the hills of Ndotsheni, but this time, the story stays where the grass is green. James Jarvis, a wealthy white man sees a police car coming down his road to tell him of the death of his son, Arthur. James and his wife fly to Johannesburg. While on the way to the morgue, they learn their son was pushing the rights of the native Africans. Although James has never had the same beliefs as his son, he respects the work his son was doing and is proud of him. Just as Stephen had said, he wished he had known his son better. As James learns more about the work his son was doing for the black people, he is saddened that his life was cut short before he could achieve his goals of ending apartheid.
At the trial, Absalom tells the whole story. It was him, Matthew, John’s son, and a man named Johannes. He said that Johannes said a voice told him when to hit the house. After they broke in, they found a servant. Johannes hit him with a crowbar when he called for Arthur. When Absalom saw Arthur he shot out of fear. The trial is not getting front page coverage in the papers. Instead, gold was discovered. How to spend the new riches is the question. The opinions waver between conservatives and liberals.That evening, James is at his son’s house going through his papers, trying to see his son’s point of view, when there is a knock at the door. He sees it is the priest from his hometown. Stephen is quite nervous, but is here to find out about the girl, who was a maid in this house,he promised his friend at the beginning of the book he would check on. While they wait to hear from the housekeeper about the fate of the girl, the two men converse. Stephen confesses that it is his son who shot Arthur, and how sorry he is. After James walks around to come to terms with this confession, they tell stories of Arthur as a child.
That evening, James is at his son’s house going through his papers, trying to see his son’s point of view, when there is a knock at the door. He sees it is the priest from his hometown. Stephen is quite nervous, but is here to find out about the girl, who was a maid in this house,he promised his friend at the beginning of the book he would check on. While they wait to hear from the housekeeper about the fate of the girl, the two men converse. Stephen confesses that it is his son who shot Arthur, and how sorry he is. After James walks around to come to terms with this confession, they tell stories of Arthur as a child.The housekeeper comes back and informs them the girl was fired after she was arrested for distilling liquor. She doesn’t know where the girl is now. When Stephen leaves, James is melancholy.
The housekeeper comes back and informs them the girl was fired after she was arrested for distilling liquor. She doesn’t know where the girl is now. When Stephen leaves, James is melancholy. After a rousing speech by John, the workers at the railroad go on strike. Three black men are killed but no changes are made. Gertrude listens to a nun speak at church about the reasons she joined the order. Gertrude thinks that might be a good idea for her, and asks Absalom’s girlfriend if she would take care of her son if she became a nun. The girl agrees, and Gertrude hopes that this decision will keep her on the right path.
Absalom is found guilty of murder. The evidence is not strong enough to prove the other two men were with him, so the loaded gun and the tire iron prove premeditation. Before Absalom can be executed, his family comes to visit and a priest marries him to the mother of his son. Absalom tells his father where to find the money he set aside to take care of his unborn child, and to send his love to his mother. He tells his father how sorry he is and he is afraid.
Stephen sees his brother one last time. He wants to warn him that the reach for power will destroy him. But, his brother tells him to mind his own business. Stephen tells him he overheard the police have a spy around him, but John says that he trusts his friends. Stephen tells him that Absalom trusted his friends, too, and look where that got him. There is a farewell gathering for Stephen. He plans to head home to Ndotsheni, taking his sister, her son, and his new daughter-in-law. Msimangu tells him he has decided to become a monk and gives Stephen all his worldly possessions, which includes thirty pounds. More money than Stephen has ever seen. When Stephen goes to collect his sister, he finds her gone, but all her clothes and son waiting for him.
Stephen arrives back in Ndotsheni with his nephew and daughter-in-law. The town welcomes him back warmly. They know the story of what Absalom did and they forgive. Stephen and the chief of the tribe spend some time talking about the problems with the village. The white men have stripped the chiefs of their power and made them figureheads, the young people all leave for Johannesburg. But, the two men have no answers.
As Stephen is walking home Arthur’s son rides up on horseback. The boy is visiting his grandfather. He is very respectful to Stephen and asks to see his house. When Stephen takes him in the boy asks for a glass of milk. Stephen tells him there is no milk in Ndotsheni. The boy asks him what the children do without milk, and Stephen tells him some of them are dying. The next day a worker from the Jarvis farm arrives with milk for the children of Ndotsheni.
James arrives in the village. He is building a dam and hiring someone to teach proper farming to the residents. He is using his money and power to help Ndotsheni prosper. The news comes down to the village that James’ wife has died. Stephen is afraid the good works that were being done to his village were because of James’ wife and now they would stop. He sends a letter of condolence and hopes the murder of her son did not contribute to her death.
The bishop thinks it might be a good idea if Stephen moves to another parish where he is not so known. He thinks the actions of Absalom shed a bad light on him and his congregation. The bishop doesn’t want James’ help to cease because the father of the man who murdered his son is the priest. But, just as Stephen is about to accept his fate, a letter arrives from James. He tells Stephen that he does not blame him for what happened and neither did his wife, he also plans to build a new church for him.
On the night before Absalom is scheduled to be executed, Stephen goes up onto a hill to think and pray. He wonders about his son, about the Shanty Town, about something Msimangu said, that he hoped the white man learned to love before the black man learned to hate. As the sun rises, the narrator of the book wonders when the dawn will come for the emancipation of the natives of Africa. From the release from the “fear of bondage and the bondage of fear”.
Stephen Kumalo – an elderly Zulu priest. He has spent his whole life in the small village of Ndotsheni in Natal Province, in Eastern South Africa. A quiet and humble man, he has a very strong sense of morals and a strong belief in God. As a character, his flaws are his sometimes quick temper, and the occasional harsh, hurtful word. He is determined to keep his tribe strong and to help his people. Throughout the book, he learns more and more about apartheid and brings the reader into a better understanding. He provides the moral center of the book.
James Jarvis – a wealthy white landowner. His farm is near Ndotsheni. Although he has never been cruel to the tribes around his farm, he has never been helpful, either. After the murder of his son, Arthur in Johannesburg, he travels to the city and has his eyes open. He sees the work his son was doing to end apartheid and decides to do his part back home. He helps to pull the village of Ndotsheni out of poverty and help them to be strong.
Theophilus Msimangu – a tall young minister, he is the guide and host of Stephen Kumalo while he is in Johannesburg looking for the missing members of his family. Through his voice, the reader learns of the plight of the native Africans. He works with the poor and desolate, never turning his eyes away from the truth. As a further testament to his faith, he joins a monastery at the end of the book.
Absalom Kumalo – the only son of Stephen Kumalo. He leaves home as a young man to find his aunt in Johannesburg and to seek his fortune. He quickly falls into a bad group of young men. He commits petty theft which leads to murder. Even after he lands in prison, he reclaims his morality. His tale is an admonitory story of the dangers of moving to the big city, and losing your moral compass.
John Kumalo – the brother of Stephen Kumalo. A former carpenter and a Christian, he quickly becomes a successful businessman and one of the three most powerful black men in Johannesburg, unfortunately, he loses his morality along the way. He is unfaithful to his wife, and a terribly neglectful father. He has a very powerful and charismatic voice. When he speaks out for the rights of the native Africans, his oratory is powerful, but he lacks the courage to act on his speeches.
Arthur Jarvis – his character doesn’t show up in the story until after his murder. His writings against apartheid influence his father to help the village near his home where Stephen lives.
Mrs. Kumalo – the wife of Stephen Kumalo. She is a strong, supportive, and equal partner in their household. She handles their hardships gracefully and pushes her husband into action. She is courageous.
Gertrude Kumalo – Stephen’s sister. She is the catalyst that set Stephen off on his quest. When she discovers her pregnancy she leaves for Johannesburg to find her husband, who had left for work. She quickly becomes a prostitute and sells liquor to support her son. She has been in and out of jail. Having trouble keeping her moral center balanced, she becomes a nun in the last of the book.
Alan Stewart Paton Biography
Alan Stewart Paton was a South African writer and social reformer. Born in Pietermaritzburg, Natal Province in 1903, Paton was the son of a civil servant. He was educated at the University of Natal where he earned a Bachelor of Science. As a teacher, Paton developed a keen interest in the social and racial problems of South Africa.Paton met Dorrie Francis Lusted while teaching at Ixopo High School and the two were married in 1928 and stayed together until her death in 1967. They raised two sons.
Paton met Dorrie Francis Lusted while teaching at Ixopo High School and the two were married in 1928 and stayed together until her death in 1967. They raised two sons.From 1935 to 1948 he was principal of the Deipkloof Reformatory for delinquent boys near Johannesburg where he introduced many enlightened reforms. Paton received great critical and popular acclaim for his first novel, “Cry, The Beloved Country” (1948) which is distinguished for
From 1935 to 1948 he was principal of the Deipkloof Reformatory for delinquent boys near Johannesburg where he introduced many enlightened reforms. Paton received great critical and popular acclaim for his first novel, “Cry, The Beloved Country” (1948) which is distinguished for it’s compassionate treatment of those caught up in the racial conflicts of South Africa. The work was made into an opera, “Lost in the Stars” (1949) with music by the German-American composer Kurt Weill and, under the original title, into a motion picture in 1952. Paton’s second novel, “Too Late to Phalarope” (1953), his short stories, “Tales From a Troubled Land” (1961) and his later novel, “Ah, But Your Land Is Beautiful” (1982) also deal with racial tensions in South African society. He also published two nonfiction works dealing with apartheid. Paton was a founder and president of the Liberal party of South Africa.Paton died in 1988 at the age of 85 in Durban, Natal. An award, the Alan Paton Award for non-fiction is annually given in his honor to this day.
Paton died in 1988 at the age of 85 in Durban, Natal. An award, the Alan Paton Award for non-fiction is annually given in his honor to this day.