Cry, the Beloved Country - Book Three, Chapters 1-3 Summary & Analysis

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Kumalo, the girl, and Gertrude’s son take many trains back to Natal province and to Ndotsheni. Kumalo’s wife and friend meet him at the train station, and he quickly and quietly tells his wife the news about Absalom and Gertrude’s sudden disappearance. His wife welcomes the girl and little boy as her own children, setting off a wave of emotional gratitude in the girl. As they walk home, people come out to welcome Kumalo home. The valley is in deep drought and even the streams have dried up. Kumalo’s friend reveals the women are walking to the river near the Jarvis farm for water. The friend now works for Jarvis and knows of that man’s troubles. The people of the village converge at the church and Kumalo leads an impromptu prayer, thanking God for their safe travels and asking for rain and forgiveness for everyone’s sins, particularly Gertrude’s and Absalom’s.

The people disperse. Kumalo reveals his family’s misfortunes to his friend, wondering if he should leave the village in shame. But, his friend assures him that all the people are glad to have him back and no one would want him to leave. He tells his friend that Sibeko’s daughter has disappeared, and though Barbara Smith didn’t care where she might have ended up, James Jarvis showed some compassion by not sharing this sentiment, not realizing Kumalo understood the woman’s English.

Kumalo shows his wife Msimangu’s extraordinary financial gift, which eases their burden a little. He begins to pray for his home in a more focused way, and wonders how they can change the poverty of the community. He wants to keep the community together, rather than watching all the young people seek their fortune in Johannesburg, and goes to see the village chief and school headmaster to brainstorm ideas for regenerating the farms. Both men are deeply aware of the problems but have no solutions. Kumalo forces the chief to acknowledge the death of the community’s small children rather than resting on a promise to simply think about the tribe’s difficulties. The chief promises to speak again to the local magistrate.

Kumalo returns to church to work on his accounts, and is surprised when a small white boy rides up on horseback. The boy looks just as his father did many years ago: it is Arthur Jarvis’ son. The little boy lifts his hat to Kumalo, being too young to know the customs. The boy asks to see the house and is impressed by its size, though Kumalo points out most villagers’ houses are not as nice. Kumalo asks the boy if he’d like some water, and the boy is surprised to learn there is neither a refrigerator to make ice water nor milk to drink. The boy realizes there is no milk because of poverty, and wonders what happens to the children in the village. Kumalo tells him honestly that they are dying. The boy absorbs this and after impressing Kumalo will his rudimentary Zulu vocabulary, he leaves, promising to return to practice more Zulu.

Kumalo’s friend visits later that night and announces that Jarvis has sent cans of milk for the village children and they will be replenished daily. Kumalo will be responsible for distributing it. Shocked, Kumalo sends Jarvis a blessing by way of the friend. The next day, Kumalo gets four letters in the mail from Absalom. One is for the girl. The other three are for Kumalo, Msimangu, and the lawyer Carmichael. Absalom has not been granted mercy and will hang on the fifteenth of the month. Kumalo shares Absalom’s letter with his wife. She urges them to keep doing their work, rather than wallow in self pity.

Storm clouds gather over the valley for the first time in months, and the village gets excited for the impending rain. Kumalo is surprised when Jarvis, the magistrate, and the village chief all converge near the church and start putting sticks and flags in the ground. Kumalo does not understand the purpose of the sticks, and neither does the chief, who simply tries to stay out of the way. The chief promises to ensure no one moves the sticks and flags. Kumalo overhears Jarvis offering to go to Pretoria to help expedite something, and the magistrate agrees to the plan. Jarvis asks Kumalo if he can take shelter from the rain in the church, and Kumalo agrees. The fierceness of the storm keeps them from conversing, and Jarvis has a hard time finding a spot to sit where the roof isn’t leaking. As the storm abates, Jarvis inquires about Absalom. Kumalo tells him there will not be mercy, and Jarvis offers to think of Absalom on the day of his death.

Though Kumalo’s homecoming is laced with pain – his son is likely to hang, Ndotsheni is crippled by a ceaseless drought – the inherent goodness of this rural life is pervasive. From Absalom’s wife’s there is contented acceptance of her new home and Kumalo’s wife’s automatic acceptance of her new children. The villagers’ joyful reunion with their leader in faith are happy to have him back to guide them. They do not judge Kumalo by his son Absalom's actions.

Ndotsheni and its valley may be “a wasted land, a land of old men and women and children,” but it is still the only place Kumalo can feel at “home” (Page 203). This idea of home reinforces the latent battle between urban and rural. No matter what ails the country, the author subtly presents the case that it is still a better option than the city because the people are kinder and more group-oriented. They do not selfishly seek their own fortunes. Kumalo leads an impromptu prayer service upon his arrival home, and the author uses a metaphor to encapsulate the key to rural life: “One breaks into a hymn, with a high note that cannot be sustained; but others come in underneath it, and support and sustain it, and some men come in too, with the deep notes and the true” (Page 204). It takes a community willing to work together and support each other to rejuvenate the land and survive as a tribe.

When Arthur Jarvis’ son visits Kumalo, he lifts his hat to Kumalo as a sign of respect to Kumalo’s age and position as reverend. Kumalo is surprised. The boy is unaware of the “custom” that whites never put themselves in a position to be “less” than a black person. This small moment is important for two symbolic reasons. First, it indicates that racism is not inherent. The white boy does not feel innately superior to Kumalo, a black man. Racism is taught, which means in can also be untaught. Through this unteaching, there is the hope for a more harmonious future for South Africa. The boy personifies that hope. If his optimistic and open-minded generation can treat blacks with respect and compassion, things will begin to change for the nation.

The rainstorm and end of the drought foreshadow positive changes for Ndotsheni, particularly when paired with James Jarvis’ appearance in the village with the magistrate. Readers should note how little control Kumalo has over the fate of his community. Just as he can’t make it rain, he can only wait for an influential white person like Jarvis to take an active interest in his community’s regeneration. His kindness and genuine interest in Jarvis’ grandson play small roles in winning Jarvis’ attention and assistance. The words of Jarvis’ own son has a much greater impact on Jarvis’ decision to start taking action in the wider world of Christian justice. Kumalo, despite his stubborn desire to keep his community together, is ultimately powerless.

tremulous, flag, respite, sultry, loiter, abate, apprehension

This section contains 1,310 words
(approx. 4 pages at 400 words per page)
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