Cry, the Beloved Country - Book Two, Chapters 1-4 Summary & Analysis

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This section contains 1,211 words
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Summary

The novel switches focus in Book Two, moving to the Jarvis family, who live in the town of Carisbrooke above the valley where Stephen Kumalo and his family live. Time rewinds slightly to the few moments before James and Margaret Jarvis receive the news that their son Arthur has been murdered. James and Arthur were not very close; James had hoped Arthur would take over their family farm, but Arthur chose to move to Johannesburg to pursue engineering. James also didn’t understand Arthur’s intense involvement in the battle for blacks’ rights.

The police captain relates the sad news to them. He escorts the Jarvises to a plane to fly to Johannesburg. They are met by Arthur’s widow’s brother, John Harrison, who takes them to his parents’ house where the widow (Mary) and Arthur’s two children are staying. The Harrisons offer every assistance to the Jarvises, arranging the funeral and church service and taking them to see Arthur’s body. John promises to bring James the paper Arthur was writing at the time of his death, “The Truth About Native Crime.” There is a clear generational divide. John, like Arthur, supports blacks’ rights, while James Jarvis and Mr. Harrison have been indifferent to the plight of the lower classes. But, with Arthur dead and an outpouring of community grief mourning his loss, James finally wants to understand his son and his work. Margaret Jarvis was more aware of their son’s pursuits and was already proud of him.

James spends time in Arthur’s study and is fascinated by his son’s varied correspondence with advocacy groups, as well as his obsession with Abraham Lincoln, about whom Arthur has a shelf full of books. He reads the piece of writing Arthur was working on in his final moments. It expressed a need for change in white attitudes toward blacks. Having destroyed the black tribal sense of community and lifestyle, it is morally imperative for whites to educate the blacks and help them rebuild their communities. Arthur did not believe in suppressing the blacks out of fear. James spends a great deal of time thinking about what his son wrote, and he takes a book on Abraham Lincoln to read.

The funeral is attended by people of every color and class, which further surprises James. While getting Arthur’s affairs in order, he spends a lot of time talking with Mr. Harrison, who wants Arthur’s killer caught and executed. A rumor spreads that the killer was a former employee of Arthur and his wife. Harrison has a negative and fearful view toward blacks, condescendingly wondering what they would do if the whites weren’t there to give them "housing" and jobs in the mines. James wishes his son were alive to offer the opposing perspective.

The next day James begins reading Arthur’s full manuscript on native crime. Arthur urges white Christians to stop subjugating blacks in the name of God’s will. James realizes how little he has thought about the treatment of blacks, and he feels like he is only just coming to know his son. He shows Arthur’s final pages to his wife, who already knew their son better. He lets her read the last words written by Arthur.

Analysis

Book Two starts off with a description of the province of Natal. The same description was used to begin Book One. This repetition indicates a reboot in time and place. The novel returns to Natal to jump into the perspective of James Jarvis at the time right before he learns of his son’s murder. The description of the setting veers from a deeply unwell landscape to the higher ground of High Place, the Jarvis Farm, and there is a metaphorical resonance to this location: the Jarvis’ are white and have greater social standing and wealth. Even their land is in better shape despite the drought.

Almost immediately readers will note the parallels between James Jarvis and Kumalo. Both have sons who chose to leave home to seek better opportunities in Johannesburg; neither father understands what drives his son, and neither can identify with the next generation’s differing priorities. Readers should note the irony in the description of James’ attitude toward his son’s renunciation of the family farm in favor of Johannesburg: “It had been a heavy blow, when he decided against High Place, but his life was his own, and no other mad had a right to put his hands on it” (Page 123). James will soon after find out someone did put his hands on Arthur’s life, and readers can anticipate comparing how James reacts to his son’s untimely death with Kumalo’s handling of Absalom’s criminal life and prison time. Just as Kumalo demands to know “why” Absalom acted as he did, so does James wonder “Why him?” in regards to Arthur’s murder at the hands of the people he was trying to help.

The shifted perspective gives readers an opportunity to look at Kumalo from another vantage point. Without yet knowing his intimate connection to the crime, James reflects on the mission in Ndotsheni, which he has often ridden by: “But it was a sad place as he remembered it. A dirty old wood-and-iron church, patched and forlorn, and a dirty old parson in a barren valley where the grass hardly grew” (Page 132). Kumalo himself knows his valley is in trouble, but he still believes it is a beautiful place, the heart of the community and tribe. To an outsider it has little value. The novel forces readers to look at characters from a variety of perspectives, and similarly, to consider a variety of solutions to the issue of racial inequality.

American readers will immediately get Arthur’s obsession with Abraham Lincoln in a way that might not be as evident to South African readers. But, to an American audience, the allusion to Lincoln should equate the struggle for racial equality in South Africa to that of the American Civil War. The novel as a whole runs parallel to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, creating a sympathetic portrait of a community that has no voice in an oppressive society.

The author recreates Arthur Jarvis’ papers for the reader, in which Arthur passionately pleads for the necessity of white action to right former wrongs perpetrated against blacks. This use of a fictional “primary document” creates layers of storytelling in the text. It gives an indirect look at Arthur’s character even though he is dead, but more importantly it gives Paton an outlet to make a direct address to his white South African audience for change across the nation. Under the guise of fiction, Paton is able to give his views on the social and political turmoil in the country in a straightforward, elegant argument. James Jarvis is the proxy for that white South African reader, a person who has been content not to think too hard about the circumstances of his life. However, when forced to face it, he sees the wisdom and necessity of changing his attitude and taking action.

Vocabulary

erode, congenial, indisposition, vicious, inexplicable, ineluctable, latter, exploitation, impede, preliminary, ascribe, refute

This section contains 1,211 words
(approx. 4 pages at 400 words per page)
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