Summary of Cry, The Beloved Country By Alan Paton – A story about the apartheid in South Africa
Summary of Cry, The Beloved Country By Alan Paton
Cry, The Beloved Country is an anti-apartheid novel written by a white South African, Alan Paton, who poured his sentiment against the white minority government of South Africa into the book. Cry, The Beloved Country is one of the best English-based novels to come from Africa. It was written by Alan Paton in 1948, during the peak of the apartheid regime in South Africa.
The story began with Stephen Kumalo, a Pastor based in the village of Ndotsheni, receiving a letter from Reverend Theophilus Msimangu whose ministry is in Sophiatown, Johannesburg. The letter informed Kumalo about his sick sister, Gertrude, who had left Ndotsheni for Johannesburg in search of her husband, who traveled to Johannesburg for years and never returned.
Several of Kumalo’s relations had left their village, Ndotsheni, plagued by drought, for a new life in Johannesburg. Nobody had heard from them for years since their departure. Kumalo’s son – Absalom, his brother – John, and several others had all left Ndotsheni for Johannesburg, but none of them had ever tried to reach those at home.
When Kumalo received the letter, he refused to open it and wondered who might have sent it among his relations residing in Johannesburg. The letter lay unread until his wife returned. She quickly grabbed it, hoping her son, Absolam sent it.
The sender was a priest from Sophiatown, Johannesburg, requesting Kumalo to come immediately to Johannesburg to save his sister, Gertrude, who was severely sick.
The letter ended, leaving Kumalo perplexed for several reasons.
Firstly, he’s not financially ready, but his wife urges him to use the savings for his son’s education to fund the trip, claiming no young person goes to Johannesburg and still has a home in mind.
Kumalo calmed his nerves down by reading the Bible more frequently.
The next day, he took all the money in his coffer to Johannesburg since he was unaware of the amount the journey would cost him in total. He boarded a train and spent the day on his way to Johannesburg, passing through the mines and learning more about the travails of an average black man in South Africa.
The mines and towns are bustling as people empty villages to towns in search of greener pastures.
When he arrived at the train station, a man appearing as a good Samaritan met him and inquired about where he was going. Kumalo told him; the stranger took him to a bus stop where he would board a bus to Sophiatown. The strange helper made him wait while he collected money from him to buy a ticket for him.
Kumalo is suspicious of the stranger disappearing with his money but ends up giving him a penny to get the ticket.
Unfortunately, the stranger failed to show up, disappearing with the money. Kumalo noticing he had just fallen victim to a scam, met another man heading to Sophiatown, who took him to the ministry of Mr. Msimangu.
Kumalo was displeased after learning about the turbulent nature of Johannesburg. He was sad about the oppression the Blacks were getting from the white minority. Kumalo loathed the white minority’s oppression of the black but loved them for bringing Christianity to South Africa.
Kumalo was more distressed after learning his sister, Gertrude, was now a prostitute and was once sent to prison for being a liquor bootlegger. Msimangu learned about Kumalo, his brother, John Kumalo, who had ditched his carpentry work for politics. When Kumalo inquired about his son from the priest, Msimangu, he said he had no idea where Absolam lived.
Msimangu took him to where Gertrude and her son resided in Claremont, Johannesburg. Kumalo corrected his town-induced behavior. When Kumalo asked Gertrude about his son, Absolam, she unsurely said he lives with John Kumalo, Stephen Kumalo’s brother. Before leaving, Kumalo insisted Gertrude must come with him, an idea she echoed and moved her things out to stay with him at Mrs.Lithebe’s house.
The next day, Kumalo and Msimangu visited John. John courted another woman after his wife left him. John told his brother about his career change and that he was no longer a carpenter. He was now one of the three most powerful politicians in Johannesburg and a businessman. He boasted of being a happier man in Johannesburg than he used to be in Ndotsheni where he was a subject to the king.
Moreover, he told Stephen Kumalo that Absolam and his son, Matthew, were working at a textile company in Alexandra.
Kumalo had to reroute to Alexandra. At Alexandra, he learned that Absolam was residing in Sophiatown with Mrs. Ndlela. Getting there, Mrs. Ndlela directed them to another address in Alexandra, where they were under the care of Mrs. Mkize. Ndlela complained of the poor attitude of Absolam and his company to Kumalo.
Kumalo, who was desperate to see his son was ready to traverse under any circumstances. There was a boycott of buses by blacks, so Kumalo and Msimangu had to walk to Alexandra. They walked to Mkize’s house. Mkize was unwilling to give them information about the whereabouts of Absolam and John out of fear. Msimangu perceived she was afraid, so he sent Kumalo on an errand to get them a drink. While Kumalo walked out to get the drink, Msimangu persuaded Mkize to tell him about Absalom with the promise of not getting her into any hassle.
Msimangu successfully persuades Mkize into directing him to a taxi man who told him that Absalom was among those staying at Orlando, Shanty Town.
Absalom and Msimangu headed to Shantytown, where they met a woman who told them that Absalom stayed with her until Magistrate sent him to Reformatory.
When they reached Reformatory, the white folk working there told them that Absolam, with other inmates, had left for Pimville with good records. The white man informed Kumalo about the girl his son, Absalom, impregnated and was ready to marry her.
Kumalo accompanied by Msimangu left for Pimville, where they met the girl Absalom impregnated. She confessed that Absalom went to Spring on Sunday but hadn’t returned. Kumalo chastises her for being promiscuous but reconciled within himself to accept the responsibility of a grandfather.
Kumalo and Msimangu were frustrated as the whereabouts of Absalom were still unknown. While the white man at Reformatory joined them in the search, Kumalo followed Msimangu to Ezenzeleni, the land of the dead, where he needed to hold a service.
At Ezenzeleni, while having dinner, the news about the death of a popular white engineer, Arthur Jarvis was released. Arthur Jarvis was a strong critic of the Apartheid regime, leader of the African Boys Club, and the son of James Jarvis, an affluential Farmer from Carisbrooke.
Rumor had it that Absolam was the murderer, leaving Kumalo to wonder how his son suddenly morphed into a beast.
Kumalo visited his brother, John, and informed him about Absalom’s involvement in a murder case of a white man. John agreed to accompany him to the prison; he was sure his son was an accomplice since they lived together.
In prison, Kumalo met his son and questioned him about his role in the murder. Absalom confessed to shooting Arthur Jarvis but shot him unintentionally out of fear. John tried to exonerate his son, Mathew, from the murder.
The white man working at Reformatory, after learning what happened, decided to pay Kumalo a visit in Mrs. Lithebe’s house. He talked to Kumalo about getting a lawyer, to avoid the whole blame being stacked up on him. John had denounced his son’s involvement in the murder. The white man advised him to get a lawyer different from John’s, although the white man believed Absalom will be punished harshly for his gruesome action, Kumalo still had to get a lawyer.
Kumalo preparing to defend his son with all at his disposal visited Absalom’s pregnant girlfriend to inform her about her boyfriend’s murder case. He persuaded her to become a part of his family and asked whether she intended to remarry, given the new development. She agreed to be part of the family and move with Kumalo to Ndotsheni. So she made a step by following him to Mrs. Lithebe’s house, where Gertrude also stayed.
Kumalo arranged to marry the girl with his son in prison.
Meanwhile, James Jarvis, the father of Arthur James, is just getting to know about the murder of his son by the police captain, Jaarsveld Van. The offer told him about a plan for him to go to Pietermaritzburg. He informed his wife.
James Jarvis went through some of his son’s works and learned that his son dedicated his life to improving the lives of black people. He discovered his son was learning Afrikaans and Sesuto to be eligible to stand for Parliamentary election.
In the trial, Absalom testified in court that Mathew Kumalo hit Mpiring with a crowbar. The other two defendants, Matthew Kumalo, and Johannes Pafuri pleaded not guilty. The prosecutor asked Absalom why he carried a gun loaded with bullets if he didn’t have any plan to kill, but he went into silence. As a result, the court adjourned the case to the next day.
James Jarvis combed the room of his murdered son to know more about his works, so after finding out he dedicated his life to fighting injustice in South Africa, which contradicted his views, he decided to help blacks in his little way.
After Gertrude was heavily chastised for her behavior, she weighs becoming a nun but gets discouraged by Mrs. Lithebe over her little son. Gertrude requested Absalom’s girlfriend take care of her son, and she agreed.
In the murder trial, the prosecutor sentences Absalom to death by hanging and found no substantial evidence to prosecute Johannes Pafuri and Matthew. After the trial, the white man working at the Reformatory left the court with other blacks, thereby breaking the old custom that heavily penalizes the violators.
A marriage arrangement was made for Absalom and his pregnant girlfriend. Father Vincent had wedded them in the prison. Given the new circumstance, Kumalo returned to inform Absalom’s wife about what had played in her absence.
Ndotsheni is plagued by drought, leading to the deaths of children. When James Jarvis learned this, he sent Napoleon, an agriculturalist, to teach the villagers farming. He constructs dams so that cattle will have water to drink and be able to produce milk.
James Jarvis’s wife had died due to grief over her lost son, so Jarvis left for Johannesburg to live with his daughter-in-law. He advised Harrison to continue Arthur Jarvis’ works and awarded ten thousand dollars for it.
Kumalo received a letter from Johannesburg about the fate of his son. He learned Absalom would be executed by hanging on the 15th of the month.
On the day Absalom was to die by hanging, Kamalo took a trip to the mountain. He had been to this same mountain in the past when he was in hardship. On the mountain, he saw different reasons to live and thanked those who had been at his side during a hard time. He also asked nature when South Africa would be a free nation.
Alan Stewart Paton
Alan Stewart Paton was a South African writer and anti-apartheid activist.
Born: 11 January 1903, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
Died: 12 April 1988, Bothas Hill, Outer West Durban, South Africa