Notes on Characters from Cry, The Beloved Country

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Cry, The Beloved Country Major Characters

Stephen Kumalo: Main character of the story. A pastor who takes his relationship with God and the state of South Africa very seriously. He sees that the poverty, injustice, and lack of morality in his country is threatening to become irreversible. He loves his beautiful land, and worries over what will happen to it. He also loves its people-both blacks and whites. Though he recognizes that white people are responsible for some of South Africa's problems, he does not hate them as a group. More than anything, he loves his own family. When he finds out that his son has become part of everything he hates about South Africa, it nearly kills him. He also berates himself for his own failings: at times he is jealous, selfish, or angry, and he hates himself for it. But his belief in the goodness of God, and the individual kindness he encounters, renew his spirit. He is a kind and gentle man who is repeatedly challenged by the cruelty and brutality of the world around him.

John Kumalo: Stephen Kumalo's younger brother. He moved to Johannesburg and now owns a successful carpenter's shop. Though he speaks out for justice for the 'natives' (black South Africans, who are overwhelmingly poor, and make up the vast majority of citizens) he is also afraid. He loves his money and power, loves that people will listen to him, but knows that if he says anything too controversial he will be put in prison. He is one of the country's great orators, but he never lets his speeches get too intense. His instinct for self-preservation is too high, and it makes him afraid to endanger himself, even for a good cause. It also makes him lie to get his son out of trouble-even if that means making things worse for Stephen and his own son, Absalom.

Absalom Kumalo: Stephen Kumalo's only child. He went to Johannesburg to find Stephen's sister, but never returned or even wrote to his parents. When Stephen finds him, he has been thrown out of several houses for bad behavior, spent time in a reformatory, gotten a young girl pregnant, and, just when he seemed to be turning his life around, robbed and murdered a kind, well-respected white man. Absalom is young, immature, and irresponsible, but being caught, paradoxically, brings out the best in him. He admits to the murder, and tells the truth from then on. He somberly accepts the fact that his 'friends' deny being at the murder scene. Though he is terrified of his execution, he eventually comes to terms with it, and arranges for all of his money to be given to his child when it is born. He slowly becomes an adult. This may be the only positive effect of the way he has lived: for the most part, he has acted foolishly, and in many ways, his life seems pointless. This is something very difficult for his father to accept.

Theophilus Msimangu: Stephen's greatest friend in the novel. He is the one who informs Stephen of his sister's immoral life in Johannesburg, finds him a place to stay there, and goes to great lengths to help him find his son. He relates well to Stephen, because both of them grapple with feelings they consider sinful. Msimangu often says that he himself is not a good man, but God has put His hands on him. Stephen is comforted by his friend's warm, genuine, generous nature, and they talk freely together, even though they haven't known each other long.

Arthur Jarvis: A respected, just, kind-hearted white man, who desperately wanted to help bring justice to South Africa. He revered Abraham Lincoln, and was a learned and thoughtful man. He was well-loved by black and white South Africans alike. Absalom Kumalo and two friends murdered Jarvis while robbing his house. Thus, Arthur is at the center of the tragedy of the book: he who was trying to help poor black people avoid lives of crime, was murdered by a young black man who was not altogether bad, just corrupted by the system Arthur was trying to change.

James Jarvis: Arthur Jarvis's father. He has never concerned himself much with the 'natives'-he was rich enough not to have to see them except as servants-but when his son dies he makes an effort to understand his life's work. Reading his son's speeches and essays, he is moved by the problems between black and white South Africans, and this leads him to try to help Stephen Kumalo's village. He gives up his feelings of hate and fear, and steadfastly acts only in compassion.

Minor Characters

Mrs. Kumalo: Stephen's wife. She is never named, and this reveals some of her role in the story. She is a kind, understanding, long-suffering woman, but she has little identity apart from her husband. She is a good wife: she takes care of her husband, loves her son desperately, and wants to do right in the world. She, like her husband, knows that South Africa is largely a destroyed country, and sees that her village is crumbling. Yet unlike Stephen's, her thoughts are never revealed to the reader. She merely grieves over these things quietly.

Gertrude Kumalo: Stephen's sister. She is twenty-five years younger than he, and much less responsible. On some level she would like to be 'good'-to settle down, take care of her son, work consistently and give back to her community-but she doesn't know how to do this. She suggests that she might become a nun, but then disappears from the house, never to be seen again. No one really knows where she has gone, but it seems doubtful that she has joined a convent.

Sibeko: His daughter has gone to Johannesburg, and has not been heard from for a year. Sibeko is worried and asks Stephen to find out about her for him. She worked for Margaret Jarvis' niece, who fired her because she was acting immorally. The niece says that she does not care where Sibeko's daughter is now.

Mrs. Lithebe: A kind, patient, upright religious woman, who boards Kumalo and takes care of him, Gertrude, Gertrude's son, and Kumalo's daughter-in-law. She tries to teach the two women to lead moral lives, and she has a deep respect for Kumalo, because she can tell he is a good man.

Father Vincent: Father Vincent is a foreign Anglican priest who befriends Stephen at the Sophiatown Mission House. He helps Stephen by praying with him and helping him think about peaceful things including the beauty of the land. Eventually, Father Vincent also helps Stephen find a lawyer when Stephen finds his son in prison.

Gertrude's son: Though Gertrude neglects him and he is a quiet, serious boy, Kumalo loves playing with him, and making him laugh. When Gertrude leaves Mrs. Lithebe's house secretly, the boy asks about her at first, but soon forgets her. He happily moves to Ndotsheni.

Matthew Kumalo: Son of John Kumalo, cousin of Absalom, and nephew of Stephen. He was with Absalom when he robbed and killed Arthur, but does not admit it. He is protected by his father. Neither of them are willing to accept that they have dodged responsibility, laying it at the feet of their more honest relatives.

Dubula: A friend of John Kumalo, and part of his political circle. He, according to Msimangu, is the one that the white people are most afraid of, because he is not afraid. He will do anything for justice-even sacrifice himself.

Mrs. Mkize: She housed Absalom and Matthew Kumalo. She is a sullen, fearful woman who will not admit to her own role in her tenants' immoral lives.

Pleasant-faced man: A white man who works at the reformatory at which Absalom stayed. He cares about Absalom, but he is also cynical. He is angry with both Absalom and himself when he finds out that Absalom has gone back to an immoral lifestyle. Yet he still tries to help him, for Stephen's sake as well as his son's.

The girl: Absalom's lover, the mother of his child. She is simple, and does not expect much from the world. Her 'immorality' seems to come more from this than from actual wickedness: she lives with a man unmarried, but she commits no crimes that the reader knows of. When Kumalo takes her under his wing, she is grateful, and wants nothing more than to be a good, respectful daughter-in-law.

Mr. Carmichael: The lawyer who defends Absalom for free. A somber, upright man, he is interested only in truth and justice. He wants to do his job well, and advance the standing of black South Africans. He is not concerned with being friendly.

Margaret Jarvis: She was closer to her son Arthur than her husband was, and she is devastated by his death. She understood what he was trying to do, and she supports James in trying to continue their son's efforts. Still, she was sick before her son died, and his murder is too much for her to bear: she dies soon after.

Johannes Pafuri: The third boy who broke into Arthur Jarvis' house. Though Johannes chose the time and the place for the robbery, and used the iron bar to knock out the servant, he denies all of this. When the judge finds in his favor, Johannes is pleased and self-righteous, as though this is just.

The chief: A self-important, proud man who is more concerned with displaying his power than with learning about ways to help Ndotsheni. He brushes off Kumalo, then tries to impress Jarvis, probably because he is a rich white man, more than because he wants to restore Ndotsheni.

The small white boy: Arthur Jarvis' son, and James Jarvis' grandson. He is mature, intelligent, and good-natured. He comes to see Ndotsheni and talks freely with Stephen, laughing easily and bringing joy to the priest. Yet when he hears that children are starving in Ndotsheni, he goes to his grandfather and asks him to give milk to the village. He is a happy, carefree boy, but he understands grief and struggle also.

The agricultural demonstrator: James Jarvis pays him to come to Ndotsheni and help the villagers learn to work the land successfully. He is happy to do it, because he wants money for himself, and independence from white people for his own people. He loves his country and wants to see it restored.

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