Cry the Beloved Country: Novel Summary: Book I Chapters 1-4

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Book I Chapters 1-4

 

Book I Chapters 1-4
Cry, the Beloved Country begins in the tribal village of Ndotsheni, in the province of Natal. Ndotsheni is an impoverished village in a valley, where the soil is so poor it can barely support the people who live there. All the young people have left, leaving only the old, and mothers with children.
A child brings a letter to the Reverend Stephen Kumalo at his home. The letter is from Theophilus Msimangu, at a Mission House in Johannesburg, and says that Kumalo's sister Gertrude is sick and he should come quickly. Kumalo takes the money that he and his wife had wanted to reserve for schooling for Absalom their son. Like Gertrude, and Kumalo's brother John, Absalom went to Johannesburg and never returned or wrote. Kumalo is also forced to take the money he was saving to buy his wife a stove.
Kumalo catches a train from Carisbrooke, a town at the top of the valley, for the long journey to Johannesburg. He is apprehensive about his trip, since he has never been to the great city before. His fellow-passengers are all black people, since the whites use cars for transportation.
After traveling overnight in the train, passing the mines on the way, he arrives in Johannesburg. He then has to make his way by bus to Sophiatown, where the Mission House is. A young man tricks him by offering to buy his ticket and then disappearing after he has taken Kumalo's money. Another man befriends him, and when they reach Sophiatown, he takes Kumalo direct to the Mission House, where he meets Msimangu.
Analysis
The short first chapter, consisting of only four paragraphs, sets out one of the basic issues the novel will examine: the inequitable distribution of land in South Africa. The fertile richness of Carisbrooke, at the top of the valley, is contrasted with the barrenness of Ndotsheni. The white people have taken the best land, leaving the black population to manage as best they can. Since the soil in Ndotsheni is so poor, the young people have been forced to go to the industrial city of Johannesburg, where many of them find work in the mines. This leads to social disintegration, because the old tribal culture gets lost in the wilderness of the big city. This is what lies behind the apprehension that Kumalo feels as he travels to Johannesburg: "Deep down the fear of a man who lives in a world not made for him, whose own world is slipping away, dying, being destroyed, beyond any recall" (chapter 3).

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