Cry, the Beloved Country - Book Two, Chapters 9-12 Summary & Analysis

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Summary

After the discovery of new gold mines, John Kumalo gives a public speech encouraging black laborers to demand their share of the nation’s wealth. John is a dynamic speaker who has the capacity to rouse a crowd to action, but he uses his power sparingly. John is afraid of losing his own small wealth and status so he never pushes his speeches too far. The police attend the speech, but they know that John has no intention of creating a dangerous situation. Kumalo and Msimangu listen to John’s speech, and Kumalo is shocked at his brother’s gift. Msimangu believes John’s corrupt pettiness is a better option than using his power to start a national race war. Separately, James Jarvis also listens to the speech, but he is less impressed. John Harrison, who accompanies him, thinks James is too old and set in his ways to face the coming changes to the nation.

White people fear a strike by the black mining laborers. A strike would stop the South African economy. Some fear that the strike will spread to all black workers. Of the 300,000 black mining laborers, only a few strike, and the police end it by pushing the blacks back into the mines, causing three deaths. The Synod of Johannesburg’s Diocese urges the industry hierarchy to allow the miners to form a union to negotiate their working conditions, but no one takes it seriously.

At Kumalo’s accommodation, Mrs. Lithebe warns Gertrude to be careful of the company she keeps and to stay vigilant against speaking and laughing “carelessly.” Gertrude is exhausted with the effort to behave in Johannesburg. On the day before Absalom’s ruling and sentencing, the newspaper reports another white man’s murder by a black burglar. The timing of this violence bodes ill for Absalom’s chance at leniency. Msimangu and Mrs. Lithebe decide to withhold the news from Kumalo, knowing it will upset him. Everyone in the house attends a meeting at Msimangu’s church, where a woman speaks about her vocation as a nun. Upon returning, Gertrude tells Mrs. Lithebe she might want to become a nun in order to subdue her sexuality. Mrs. Lithebe encourages her in this thought, but they decide to think about it before Gertrude makes a decision. Gertrude mentions the tentative plan to Absalom’s girl, who promises to take care of Gertrude’s son if she joins a convent.

Everyone attends court the next day for the Judge’s ruling. He reviews all the testimony and evidence. He decides there is not sufficient evidence to convict Pafuri of knocking out the servant, nor even enough to place Pafuri or Matthew Kumalo at the crime scene. He lets them go free. The judge then considers the case for and against Absalom. He decides that despite Absalom's professed objectives, the fact that he was carrying a loaded weapon indicates some intention for violence. This intention is enough for Absalom to be found guilty of murder. He will be sentenced to death by hanging. The judge decides he cannot be merciful because Absalom made a series of bad choices of his own volition. He was carrying violent weapons when he broke into the house. Then, he used the weapons to inflict harm. Absalom breaks down sobbing, and Kumalo is assisted out of the court by Msimangu and the white reformatory worker, who breaks tradition by exiting through the “non-European” door with the black men.

The group goes to the prison so that Father Vincent can marry Absalom and the girl, who barely know each other. Kumalo spends a few minutes alone with Absalom after the ceremony. He and the family will travel back to Ndotsheni the following day. Absalom offers all the money in his bank account for the care of his child and requests that Kumalo name the baby Peter if it is a boy. Kumalo is bitter that Matthew and Johannes aren’t sharing the burden of guilt. Absalom breaks down again at the thought of going to the prison Pretoria alone. The prison guard gives them a few extra minutes together. Finally, Kumalo must leave. Absalom wraps himself around his father in desperation, but the guard pulls him off. The girl is excited to present herself to Kumalo as his daughter, but Kumalo is too overcome with grief to think about it.

Kumalo goes to say goodbye to his brother John, refusing his offer for tea. John commends Kumalo for taking on the burden of Gertrude and her child, as well as Absalom’s bride. Kumalo urges John to bring Matthew home so that he does not end up like Absalom, and John assures him he already plans to do that. Kumalo questions John about his politics, worrying about the trouble his views could cause him. Kumalo warns John to be careful lest he is watched. Out of spite, Kumalo even makes up a story to instill fear in John that he has a spy visiting the shop to listen to him. He points out that Absalom had two “friends” who betrayed him and John might too. John becomes enraged and kicks Kumalo out. Kumalo regrets his lie to his brother.

In a different part of the city, the Harrisons escort James Jarvis to the train station for his trip home. Mr. Harrison is glad of the trial’s outcome and only wishes the two accomplices had been jailed as well. James thanks Mr. Harrison for all his help. Before getting on the train, James gives John Harrison an envelope and tells him not to open it until James is gone. Inside John finds a thousand pounds to put toward the club John and Arthur ran together for blacks, with the request that John name the club after Arthur.

Back at Mrs. Lithebe’s there is a small gathering to say goodbye to Kumalo and the women. They are celebrating Msimangu’s impending retirement into a religious community where he will live without possessions away from the material world. Before they part for the night, Msimangu takes Kumalo aside and gives him his entire savings of thirty three pounds. Msimangu tells him he has no other family to give it to nor any need for it in his new life, and Kumalo can use it to look after his suddenly expanded family. Kumalo is overcome with emotion at Msimangu’s generosity. All Msimangu asks in return is that Kumalo keep him in his prayers. Msimangu promises to keep Kumalo informed on how Absalom’s plea for mercy to the Governor-General-in-Council goes, and if and when Absalom is finally hanged. Kumalo wakes early the next day to make final preparations for their journey, but is shocked to discover Gertrude is gone, having left her son and her nice clothes behind.

Analysis

Chapter 9 dissects the character of John Kumalo. John is content to be a big fish in the small pond of his community. He doesn’t have to answer to a chief. Instead, he is treated like one without having to be born into it. But, his power is empty because he doesn’t have the intellect or the selflessness to use it for the greater good. Like everyone else in South African society, John is afraid of losing what little wealth and status he has. He has no intention of risking them in order to help others rise up as well. John is one of the few blacks who potentially has the power to effect change among his people. He is too selfish to act on it, making him a counterpoint to Arthur Jarvis. As a white man, Arthur had no stake in the fight for black rights beyond moral correctness and responsibility. He protests for racial equality for selfless motives. Like John, he does not want to be a martyr. But, he is willing to give up his life for the cause of justice.

Once again the question of intention moves to the forefront. John does not intend to start a race war. He only intends to keep his own claim to financial security and a modest amount of prestige. John is morally corrupt because he never even stops to consider his motives or how he could use his power to serve others. Kumalo, who has dedicated his life to service, is still not perfect. He chooses to lie to John about a potential spy because he wants to hurt his brother. Yet, he immediately recognizes the sinfulness of this intention and repents of it. This final confrontation between the brothers demonstrates the butting heads of religion versus politics and passivity versus aggression. John doesn’t truly stand up for the things he pontificates about. He is not really political. He is essentially as passive as his brother – which means that though Kumalo is less powerful than John superficially, he has the power of good and right on his side. There is a tacit promotion of a life that relies on God to improve one’s lot.

Though the gold mining strike is a failure, the Synod of the Diocese of Johannesburg prophesies future violence if blacks are not given a better lifestyle. Paton uses vivid metaphor to hammer home the idea that just because the blacks are quiet doesn’t mean they aren’t angry. The novel is set in 1946 and published in 1948. Paton writes in real time with a sense of urgency for his white South African audience. He is foreshadowing violence in his society if the issue of racial inequality is not dealt with. Forty-six years of apartheid would bear out Paton’s prophecy in ways he had no way of knowing.

Keen readers will note the symmetry of financial donations and what it says about the novel’s main characters. James Jarvis offers a large sum of money to keep Arthur’s work in Johannesburg alive. Kumalo accepts a sum of money from Msimangu that is big to him to support his suddenly large family in a rural community with little opportunity. James, a wealthy white man, gives. Kumalo, a good but poor reverend, receives. Arthur’s work involved more than throwing money at the problem of inequality, and Kumalo also needs more than money to rejuvenate his small community. Readers can, perhaps, foreshadow James’ more active participation in the village close to his own home and Kumalo sparking that active participation through his passive kindness.

Vocabulary

resurgent, dominion, indiscriminate, orator, synod, unscrupulous, renounce, supposition, cogent, countenance, infer, extenuate

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