Cry, the Beloved Country - Book One, Chapters 9-11 Summary & Analysis

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Summary

Kumalo takes comfort in his young nephew as he worries about his own son. Msimangu takes Kumalo to the Shanty Town in Orlando. The houses there are rigged together from sacks, bits of iron, and old wood. They offer little shelter from harsh weather. Kumalo and Msimangu meet a nurse who knew Absalom, and they follow her directions to the house of the Hlayshwayos where he was staying. The woman who lives there directs them to a nearby reformatory where Absalom was sent when he got into some trouble. Kumalo fears the worst at this news, wondering what bad behavior his son has gotten into. The young white man who works in the reformatory office tells them that Absalom is no longer there because a young girl showed up one day and claimed she was pregnant with Absalom’s baby. Absalom was behaving and even excelling at the reformatory. He had achieved the position of head boy. Since he and the girl seemed to care for each other and his behavior was excellent, authorities released him from the reformatory. The white man tells them Absalom has a good job at a factory and that he (the white man) has arranged for his pending marriage. He promises to take Kumalo and Msimangu to see Absalom where he lives in Pimville when he is done with his work.

Later, the white man drives them to Pimville where they find the pregnant girl. She tells hem Absalom left for the town of Springs four days ago and has not returned or sent any word. The men are disappointed to learn that Absalom has shirked his familial duty. Kumalo feels sympathy for the girl and wants to help her and his future grandchild, but Msimangu reminds him the baby might not even be Absalom’s. The white man is also disappointed that the effort he put into his young protégé has gone to waste, but he promises to keep looking for Absalom. When the white man leaves them, Msimangu apologizes to Kumalo for his negative attitude, and promises to take Kumalo to see the girl again. Msimangu has business to attend in a community of blind people that he ministers to. He urges Kumalo to come with him and rest for a few days, leaving the white man to continue the search.

When they return to Msimangu’s mission, they learn a famous white engineer named Arthur Jarvis, who worked for black rights, has been murdered in his home. "Natives” are suspected of committing the crime. Kumalo knew Jarvis’ father, who lived in a town called Carisbrooke near his own village. Kumalo is overcome with a sense of fear. He worries that Absalom might be involved in the murder.

Analysis

In Chapter 9, the focus shifts. While there are no sign posts for the shift in attention and voice, the chapter acts like the chorus of a Greek tragedy, arousing sympathy by creating a vivid, poetic picture of life in Orlando’s Shanty Town. It focuses on the plight of an anonymous (perhaps named Mrs. Seme) woman. Even though her house is overcrowded, she must take in boarders in order to feed her family. She interacts with the powerful black activist Dubula to try to move up the five year waiting list for a bigger, private house. She ends up in a ramshackle structure that is part of Shanty Town’s genesis. Her child dies before a doctor can examine it. The use of repetition, reliance on dialogue (making the reader a voyeur into private conversations), and movement through time at an accelerated, past time elevates the chapter outside the flow of the narrative. Like a Greek chorus, the chapter acts to bear witness. Paton most likely intended it as a shocking portrait of the difficulties of blacks’ lives for white readers, offering a different perspective than the relative good social standing of the priest Kumalo (and foreshadowing that even his success will not shield him from tragedy). This chapter once again underscores the idea that tribal village life should be venerated and city life renounced, when the anonymous speaker claims, “Oh my husband, why did we leave the land of our people? There is not much there, but it is better than here. There is not much food there, but it is shared by all together. If all are poor, it is not so bad to be poor” (Page 57).

The inclusion of this chapter gives at least a temporary voice to a black woman. Her anonymity allows her to act as a symbol for all black women. The primary focus of women’s lives in this society is motherhood. Only women who have achieved an elderly age having raised a family are given any respect in this world, and the title “mother” has tones of reverence. The loss of a child, as this woman experiences, can result in the destruction of a woman’s sense of herself. They must resign themselves to “the lot of women to carry, to bear, to watch, and to lose” (Page 59).

Both Gertrude and Absalom’s young girlfriend, lacking education and having used their sexuality as a means to survive, are chastised and disparaged for their actions. However, since Msimangu and Kumalo are Christian, they ultimately must forgive the women their sins. Msimangu shows his disgruntlement with the entire younger generation, scoffing at both the veracity of Absalom’s paternity to the girl’s child, but also blaming young men for failing to live up to their familial responsibilities. There is a clear schism in the priorities and values of Kumalo’s generation and that of his son and younger sister .

Keen readers will note how deeply embedded and significant custom is to the tribal generation. Titles of respect are used under all circumstances. Kumalo doesn’t mix much with those not of his class and gender. In giving directions to a house, one character explains it can be found “on the side of the hand that you eat with” (Page 63). Understanding that life is so traditionally demarcated that everyone eats with the same hand gives readers a better understanding into a culture that is so alien to their own. It also offers insight into Kumalo’s mindset, that he is watching a world of ingrained custom erode away and that is clearly disturbing when it is all he has ever known. This idea is underscored in the rhetorical passage, “Cry for the broken tribe, for the law and the custom that is gone….Cry, the beloved country, these things are not yet at an end” (Page 72). Paton makes a direct plea to the reader to recognize how desperately this society needs to change to accommodate the needs of everyone.

One brief rhetorical repetition in this section comes via the line, “God have mercy upon us. Christ have mercy upon us. White man, have mercy on us” (Page 58). Echoing the “Holy Trinity” of Catholicism, here poor blacks are reduced to begging whites, who have the power to bestow life or death on the powerless, for “divine” intercession. Religion and power are entwined in the minds of the poor blacks, but as John Kumalo pointed out, the Church is toothless. Only whites have the actual power to save blacks.

Vocabulary

travail, intimacy, perplex, obscure, melodious, muse, habitation, contrive, reformatory, amend, indifferent

This section contains 1,229 words
(approx. 4 pages at 400 words per page)
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