Cry, the Beloved Country - Book One, Chapters 15-17 Summary & Analysis

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After returning to Mrs. Lithebe’s house, Kumalo is surprised by a visit from the white reformatory worker, who apologizes for his unnecessary anger, admitting he has a tendency to lash out when he fails in his work. He reverses his position and urges Kumalo to get a lawyer who can make a judge believe that Absalom is telling the truth, both about the presence of his accomplices and his unwillingness to kill. The white man accompanies him to see Father Vincent, hoping he might recommend a lawyer. Father Vincent is more than happy to help secure a lawyer, as well as to marry Absalom and the girl. The white man leaves and Kumalo pours his grief out to Father Vincent, wondering how Absalom turned out so badly and what he and his wife could have done to prevent it. He is devastated that Absalom only seems upset for his own fate rather than his destructive actions. Father Vincent urges him to pray and find things to be grateful for, rather than wallow in self-pity.

Kumalo follows Father Vincent’s advice. He goes to see the pregnant girl to tell her the news about Absalom. He asks if she still wants to marry Absalom, and she says yes. She admits she has a troubled background. Her father left her alcoholic mother, and the girl left home because she didn’t get along with her mother’s new husband. Kumalo is disgusted to learn the girl has been sexually involved with two men before Absalom. He tries to shame the girl, even testing her by asking her to sleep with him (Kumalo). He pulls himself together and recognizes his cruelty. He tells her marrying Absalom will require moving to a small, quiet village. The girl is genuinely thrilled at the prospect, and Kumalo realizes he has underestimated her.

Kumalo arranges for the girl to move into Mrs. Lithebe’s house with him, Gertrude, and her son. He knows he will have to use his savings to accommodate them all, which means his wife will not get the stove she has longed for. Mrs. Lithebe is afraid of Gertrude’s frank and careless influence. She reminds the girl to be respectful and quiet. The girl readily acquiesces as she is happy to belong somewhere. Kumalo visits Absalom again, and Absalom recounts a meeting with his two accomplices who are enraged that Absalom doesn’t act as the scapegoat for all of them. Kumalo makes Absalom feel guilty for associating with such untrustworthy people in the first place. Realizing that is not the best approach for helping his son turn his life around, he tells him they are hiring a lawyer and arranging his marriage. For the first time, Absalom seems a little happy and hopeful.

Kumalo meets with the lawyer provided by Father Vincent. The lawyer is Mr. Carmichael, a white man who works for the rights of the black community. Mr. Carmichael has met with Absalom and believes he is telling the truth. He asks Kumalo to gather his own thoughts as well as the impressions of others about Absalom’s behavior before the murder to help build a defense. Kumalo is overcome with gratitude that Mr. Carmichael is working the case for free.


Kumalo’s passivity is partially explained by the indoctrination of his culture. When the white reformatory worker returns to see him, Kumalo can’t express any of his anger or hurt at being treated disrespectfully. He has to let the white man do as he pleases. Even though the white man intends to apologize, Kumalo has no choice but to accept the apology, even if he still felt irritated: “Kumalo struggled within himself. For it is thus with a black man, who has learned to be humble and who yet desires to be something that is himself” (Page 98-9). Kumalo, despite his position of reverence and respect in his own community, is still powerless in the greater world. His powerlessness comes at the hands of the white man, but Kumalo feels the hand of fate in his life too, describing how Absalom’s crime was predestined, lying in wait to ruin their good name and status from the time Absalom was born. As Kumalo believes he did everything he could to raise Absalom to be moral and good, he cannot blame himself for his son’s bad character; therefore, he sees himself as a victim of destiny.

Kumalo is described as one who “thought slowly and acted slowly, no doubt because he lived in the slow tribal rhythm” (Page 105). Once again, Kumalo is a symbol of the tribe itself, and the tribe is a symbol of a traditional, dying way of life. He literally cannot keep up with the modern world. He was always a few locations behind in his search for Absalom. Had he found his son a few days earlier, perhaps he could have prevented a murder. But, in his “slow tribal” way of life, speed was not required because murder was not a potential threat.

Kumalo demonstrates his complexity and his struggles to maintain his good intentions in this section. He purposefully acts cruelly and shames the pregnant girl because she hasn’t, in her young life, lived up to his moral standards. He quickly recognizes his intentions are not pure, and he retracts his statements to the girl. As a professed Christian, he must show compassion to the girl and her difficult circumstances. She had grown up with an alcoholic mother and no father. He behaves similarly with Absalom, wanting to punish his son for his thoughtless choice of companions and actions. Kumalo, who is a man trying to live a good life, is not a saint. He must stay vigilant about his intentions and work to maintain his moral righteousness. He is the readers’ proxy, and his struggles are universal. The poor girl, who has been through so much at such a young age, is also cautioned to watch her intentions by Mrs. Lithebe, a guardian of female virtue. Mrs. Lithebe urges both Gertrude and the girl not to laugh in a “careless, idle” way. Even the intention behind laughter can speak to one’s moral character, and for women in particular, this can be damning.


dispirited, dogged, reproach, bereaved, persist, seemly, dejection, absolve, implicate

This section contains 1,062 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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