Cry, The Beloved Country Plot Summary
The Reverend Stephen Kumalo, a poor black Anglican parson, lives with his wife in the small village of Ndotsheni in South Africa. Many of his relatives have moved to Johannesburg, a huge and dangerous city, never to be heard from again: his brother, his son, and his sister are the most missed. Johannesburg is the place where many poor black people have gone to try to earn a living, since there are gold mines there. The countryside is over-plowed, but the cities are overcrowded. Black people have been kept poor by the few, but greedy, white people in South Africa, and now many black people have turned to crime. Yet there are also many people, both white and black, striving for change, for justice.
One day Stephen gets a letter from a parson in Johannesburg. Reverend Msimangu writes that Stephen's sister Gertrude is sick. Stephen also wants to know what has happened to his son, Absalom, in Johannesburg, so he agrees to go there, although it will be very expensive.
In Johannesburg, Stephen finds that his sister has become a prostitute. She repents when she meets him, and moves into the place he is staying, near Msimangu's Mission House. Stephen and Msimangu become good friends as they search for Absalom, though it becomes increasingly clear that Absalom has not been leading a good life. Then, a respected white man named Arthur Jarvis, who worked for racial equality, is murdered by black boys. Arthur was raised near Ndotsheni, so Stephen knows him and his father by sight, and is very upset about the murder. As it turns out, Absalom is the killer, though he had two accomplices, one of whom is Matthew, the son of Stephen's brother John. Absalom feels terrible about what he has done, and vows to only tell the truth from now on. But Matthew and the other boy lie, saying that they were not part of the murder. The judge believes them, and Absalom is sentenced to hang alone. This is in spite of the great efforts of the church in Johannesburg, who help Stephen so much-with prayer, money, and advice-that he is overcome with gratitude. Msimangu, especially, does everything he can to help Stephen, though he brushes off any thanks, saying that God is directing him, that is all. Stephen tries not to fall into despair over the hopelessness of his situation, and reaches out to the needy people around him. Gertrude has a son, and when she eventually runs away from the Mission House at night, Stephen takes over his care. Absalom has a lover who is pregnant, and Stephen brings the girl to live with him in Johannesburg, then takes her back to Ndotsheni. She is a source of joy for him, because she was leading an immoral life, but with his direction, has become a kind and good person.
Meanwhile, Stephen meets James Jarvis, Arthur's father, by accident. James, who never cared much about political issues, has been reading his son's writing. He commits to a life of justice and compassion, inspired by his dead son's words. He also pities Stephen, who comes from a poor village, and has been broken by the wickedness of those close to him. James can see that Stephen, too, believes kindness and truth to be all-important. James begins to help Ndotsheni. He sends a teacher there to help them understand how to grow successful crops. He pays for a new church to be built. He buys milk for the young children who need it. Though they are not friends-Jarvis is a reserved man who does not display emotions easily-they help each other recover from their losses. Though Stephen is old, he knows that the land will one day be restored. This comforts him more than anything, because he loves his beautiful land deeply. Throughout his terrible journey, it comforts him and gives him strength.