Cry, the Beloved Country - Book Two, Chapters 5-8 Summary & Analysis

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Summary

The day of the court case arrives. Absalom’s lawyer, Mr. Carmichael, pleads not guilty on Absalom’s behalf to the crime of murder, as Absalom did not intend to kill Arthur Jarvis. Absalom testifies that one of the other two accused, Johannes Pafuri, suggested the time and place of the house burglary because he knew no one would be home. Absalom describes tying handkerchiefs over their mouths and entering the house, where they encountered the servant, Richard Mpiring. Johannes knocked Mpiring out with an iron bar he was carrying. Absalom was not expecting Jarvis to enter the room, and he shot him out of fear. He buried the revolver on a plantation, and prayed for forgiveness. Absalom tells the judge he carried the revolver because he had heard Johannesburg was dangerous, and he only had a single bullet in it at the time he shot Jarvis. He had only intended to use it for self-defense and to frighten people, just as Johannes intended to use the iron bar. Absalom accuses Johannes and his cousin Matthew Kumalo of lying about their absence from the murder and their discussion of it afterward at the house of Baby Mkize. Absalom went to the house of Joseph Bhengu, where the police found him, and he regretted not turning himself in and confessing immediately as he had intended.

After the court has adjourned, Stephen Kumalo exits. He is unsettled by the sight of Arthur Jarvis’ father James. The trial receives little attention because gold has been discovered in a town called Odendaalsrust and everyone is buying and selling stock shares. Everyone is planning for a bright future, except for the blacks who will continue to work hard for the same low wages.

James Jarvis continues to read his son’s papers, walking past the blood-stained floor on his way to Arthur’s study. He finds one article that is critical of James himself for raising Arthur without a sense of nationality and social responsibility. James is offended but continues reading. He is impressed by his son’s selflessness. Arthur was working toward what he felt was morally right and was willing to die for the cause of South African equality. When he leaves the house after reading this, he goes through the front rather than past his son’s bloodstain.

James and Margaret visit Margaret’s niece, Barbara Smith, at her home in Springs. James stays behind while the women go to town but is soon disrupted by a knock at the door. He recognizes the black visitor as a reverend, but he cannot understand the man’s sudden trembling and weak knees. The black man is Kumalo. He inquires about the daughter of a neighbor, Sibeko, who supposedly lives in the house working for Barbara Smith. James questions a boy who works in the house, but he never knew the woman, so James invites Kumalo to wait for Barbara’s return.

James finally recognizes Kumalo as the parson from Ndotsheni, but he still doesn’t understand Kumalo’s fearful behavior. Kumalo finally admits that his son killed Arthur. Though surprised, James has no anger for Kumalo. Kumalo describes how he would see James and Arthur riding past the mission church. He tells James that he saw a “brightness” in Arthur. When Barbara returns, James asks her about Sibeko’s daughter. Barbara coldly recounts that the girl turned to making liquor and was sent to jail. She claims she doesn’t know what happened to the girl after that, nor does she care. James gently and tactfully shares this information with Kumalo. James watches as Kumalo leaves, deeply shaken by the encounter.

Analysis

The beginning of Chapter 5 is set in the court room, which the author vividly describes. A second person narrative voice gives the reader an immersive feeling of being there. Paton goes to great trouble to describe the chain of responsibility in upholding the law. A judge can only uphold the law as it stands, even if the law is not just. Paton is none too subtle in laying the blame for unjust laws at the feet of white people, who vote the laws into action. Many laws are based on fear rather than justice. No matter how sincere, just, and morally righteous a judge is, he is essentially corrupt because he is working within a flawed and corrupt system.

After the setting's description and the law's framework are described, the dialogue begins and continues for many uninterrupted pages. It seems as if it were a transcript of Absalom’s testimony.

Chapter 6 explains in part why South Africa is so full of fear. White South Africans are afraid of losing their wealth which comes at the expense of black rights, as symbolized by the discovery of new gold mines in a small, unknown town. Paton uses an ironic tone for much of the chapter justifying why “we” must continue to develop the mines as they have been built in the past, hoarding the profit and keeping blacks down while simultaneously making South Africa a “wonderful” and wealthy nation. The chapter is entirely rhetorical, summing up the hypocrisy and greed of white South Africans who are afraid to try anything new to improve the conditions of blacks lest they lose even a fraction of their profits.

Readers will note all the euphemisms to denote racial inferiority. Blacks are referred to as “natives” or “Non-Europeans.” The social pyramid is even more textured, and blacks or tribal groups like Zulus are not the only ones looked down upon. People of Afrikaner descent are also looked down upon by white South Africans of European ancestry. They mock the name of the town where gold has been found, “Odendaalsrust,” as awkward and equate it with a lack of sophistication. Afrikaans as a language is disparaged, though even a white farmer like James Jarvis can speak Zulu, a native tongue. Fear is clearly a major theme in the novel, and these euphemisms and mockeries are a way for the group in power to distance themselves from the oppressed, to make them an “other” that is less human and therefore less deserving of rights. These tactics were used similarly by the Nazis against Jews in Europe, and the author suggests that if things continue unchecked in South Africa violence will be inevitable. However, given that blacks outnumber whites, the tide of violence will move in a different direction from the Nazi use of violence to maintain their power.

Paton once again is able to voice his rhetoric about the white need to act selflessly to heal South Africa as a whole through the papers of Arthur Jarvis. Even though James is personally offended by what Arthur writes about his father’s lack of social awareness, he is still won over by his son’s arguments and willingness to support his words with actions. James makes his own small action, his own shift in intention, when he leaves Arthur’s house through the front door rather than walking past his son’s blood yet again. It is not that he “cannot face it anymore,” as the police guard at the house believes, but rather that he is making a choice not to wallow in his son’s death. Rather than letting that death define him in a way that makes him resentful and bitter, James is taking the first small step toward honoring his son’s death through action that supports Arthur’s mission. Arthur would not want his father to continue reliving the pain of his death. However, he would want his father to keep his death from being meaningless.

Vocabulary

culpable, contempt, impersonal, expedient, aspire, inverted

This section contains 1,283 words
(approx. 4 pages at 400 words per page)
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