Cry, The Beloved Country Study Guide

Cry, The Beloved Country By Alan Paton

In Ndotsheni, a small village in Ixopo, black pastor Stephen Kumalo receives a letter from priest Theophilus Msimangu, urging him to come to Johannesburg to help his sister Gertrude, who has fallen ill. Kumalo goes, not just to help his sister, but also to find her son Absalom, who had gone to the city to seek Gertrude but never returned.

When he gets to Johannesburg, Kumalo learns that Gertrude has become a beerbower and a whore, and drinks heavily. She agrees to return to Ndotshemi if they can obtain her son, so Kumalo begins to search for Absalom. He first visits his brother John, a politically-involved carpenter. He also meets up with Msimangu, and the two follow Absalom's trail.

They learn that Absalom has been in a reformatory and has made a young woman pregnant. They find out that Absalom has been arrested for murdering the white man Arthur Jarvis while attempting to burglarize his home. Arthur Jarvis turns out to be an activist for racial justice, and son of Kumalo's neighbor back in Ndotsheni, James Jarvis.

James Jarvis learns of his son's death and comes to Johannesburg. He had been distant from his son, but his son wrote many essays about racial justice, and James begins to understand his son's life by reading those writings. He decides to take up his son's work on behalf of South Africa's black populace.

Absalom is sentenced to death for the murder, but before Kumalo returns home, Absalom marries the pregnant girl, and she returns to Ndotsheni with Kumalo as part of his family, but not Gertrude, who ran away the night before their scheduled departure.

Kumalo, back home, visits the tribe's chief to discuss how to help the barren village out. Help arrives in the form of James Jarvis, who arranges to have a dam built and hires an agricultural expert to implement new farming methods. The novel ends the morning after Absalom's execution with sadness in the heart of Kumalo, but new hope in the future for Ndotsheni.

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