Cry, the Beloved Country - Study Guide Chapters 1-5 Summary & Analysis

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Chapters 1-5 Summary

Chapter 1 describes the approach to the valley where the village of Ndotsheni lies. The road to the valley is beautiful and rises through green hills matted with grass. On the far side of the hill, however, the land changes. The earth is bare and red and holds no moisture. The corn is stunted and the pastures overgrazed. The valley cannot hold its people, either, and they leave to find work in the mines and in the city of Johannesburg.

 

Chapter 2 opens as a letter is delivered to Reverend Stephen Kumalo at St. Mark's Church in Ndotsheni. Kumalo is wary of the letter, which is brought by a small child from the nearby store where it was delivered. It comes from Johannesburg, but there is nothing on the outside to indicate who sent it. Kumalo's wife sees him with the letter and together they wonder who it might be from. It might perhaps be from their son, Absalom, they imagine, who had gone to Johannesburg and from whom they have not had word for some time. Or it might be from Kumalo's sister, Gertrude, who had also gone to Johannesburg to look for her missing husband and stopped contact. Or possibly from John Kumalo, Stephen's brother, also in the city. They speculate for some time before Kumalo opens the letter, somewhat reluctantly.

 

The letter is from the Reverend Theophilus Msimangu, a fellow priest in Johannesburg. Msimangu informs Kumalo that he has learned that he is the brother of Gertrude Kumalo, who is very sick and needs his help right away. Kumalo decides he must go to Johannesburg, although he does not have much money. He gathers together the money he and his wife are saving to buy a new stove and new clothes. After a brief argument with his wife, he also adds the money they are saving for their son's schooling. They both admit that it is unlikely now that he will ever continue with his school since he has gone to Johannesburg. Kumalo apologizes for speaking harshly to his wife and goes to the church to pray.

 

In Chapter 3, Kumalo prepares to leave for Johannesburg. He has never been to the city, but is afraid of what he knows. The son of a woman in his village was once killed there, hit by a truck while crossing a street. He is taken by cart to the nearest train station by a friend, one of the men of his church. Just before he boards the train, his friend gives him a paper with an address on it and asks that Kumalo make inquiries about the daughter of another villager named Sibeko. Sibeko's daughter had gone to work for a family that moved to a suburb of Johannesburg but he had not heard from her for nearly a year. Kumalo promises he will do what he can and boards the train, sitting in the carriage designated for black passengers.

 

Chapter 4 describes Kumalo's journey and arrival in Johannesburg. He is bewildered by the busy train station and makes his way toward the bus stall to ride to Sophiatown, where Msimangu's church is located. A young man approaches him and offers to help. He shows Kumalo the line to the bus and offers to buy a ticket for him. Grateful, Kumalo gives him some money, but the young man does not return. Another man learns what has happened and helps Kumalo get to Sophiatown, taking him directly to Msimangu. Kumalo is releived to have arrived safely.

 

In Chapter 5, Kumalo learns the nature of his sister's illness. First, he has supper with Msimangu and several other priests, who are eager to hear him speak about his home village. Afterward, Msimangu takes him aside and explains that Gertrude is not physically ill, but spiritually and morally ill. In a circumspect way, he lets Kumalo know that she has become a prostitute and that she has a child. Kumalo is distressed at this news, and shares with Msimangu that he is also distressed about his son, who has not contacted him for so long. Msimangu promises he will do what he can to help Kumalo find his son after they have helped Gertrude. He takes Kumalo to the home of Mrs. Lithebe, a woman who has agreed to let him a room while he is in the city. She is honored to have a priest stay at her house and offers whatever help she can. Kumalo sits in wonder that in just one day he has traveled to such a different place.

Chapters 1-5 Analysis

The book opens with a brief chapter that serves to describe the physical beauty of South Africa and contrast it with the increasingly desperate situation in the village of Ndotsheni, where the land can no longer support the young people, who are drawn away to the cities. This is a central theme of the novel, and it is introduced here. The language of the opening chapter is later paralleled in Book II, where Paton uses it to draw a distinction between the nearly barren village and the lush hills that surround it.

Chapter 2 introduces the main character, the Reverend Stephen Kumalo, and also sets up his eventual visit to Johannesburg when he receives a letter from Msimangu calling him to help his sister. Rapidly, the scene changes from the quiet village to the busy city as Kumalo finds himself in a completely new environment. He is practically lost, relying on the helpful Msimangu to help him.

This section contains 920 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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