Cry the Beloved Country: Novel Summary: Book I Chapters 13-17

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Book I Chapters 13-17

 

Book I: Chapters 13-17
Msimangu and Kumalo visit Enzenzelani, a place where white people assist blind black people. Msimangu preaches a moving sermon in the chapel there.
The next day, back at the Mission, Msimangu and the young white man from the reformatory inform Kumalo that Absalom has been arrested and charged with the murder of Arthur Jarvis. John Kumalo's son and another black man have also been arrested, but it was Absalom who fired the fatal shot. Kumalo goes to tell his brother of what has happened, and they both go to the prison to visit their sons. Absalom admits he killed Jarvis, but said he fired the shot because he was frightened. He did not mean to kill the man. Under questioning from his father, Absalom says that the devil made him do it, but this does not satisfy his father. Absalom also says that he still wishes to marry the girl who is pregnant by him. After the meetings with their sons, John Kumalo tells his brother they must get a lawyer. He also reveals that the other two boys claim they were not present in the house when the murder took place. He says that no one will believe Absalom when he says they were there.
The young man from the reformatory comes to see Kumalo and persuades him to hire a lawyer. Kumalo then has a long talk with Father Vincent at the Mission House, who consoles him in his grief and fear. The next day Kumalo visits the pregnant sixteen-year-old girl. He tells her what Absalom has done, and asks her whether she wants to marry him. She says that she does, even though it will mean going from Johannesburg to live in the very quiet atmosphere of Ndotsheni, where she will bear her child.
Kumalo arranges with Mrs. Lithebe for the girl to live temporarily at her house in Sophiatown. The girl and Gertrude get on well and talk a lot, but Mrs. Lithebe does not like the girl's careless laughter, which she thinks may hurt Kumalo, and she rebukes her. The girl becomes quiet and obedient.
Kumalo visits his son again, tells him he is hoping to arrange the marriage and find him a lawyer. They talk about the other boys involved in the crime, and Kumalo rebukes his son for choosing his friends so poorly.
Back at the Mission House, Kumalo meets Mr. Carmichael, the prominent white lawyer who has agreed to defend Absalom pro deo (without charging a fee).
Analysis
These chapters show the difficulty of reforming troubled youth. In Absalom's case, the best attempts of the staff at the reformatory fail. Even though Absalom performed well there, he soon falls into bad company again when he is released. This shows how badly he needs the kind of structured life that the reformatory provided, and which is no longer available for young black men since the breakdown of the old tribal culture.
Kumalo learns more of how his brother has become corrupt in the city. John Kumalo uses all his cunning to save his own son, regardless of the truth of the matter. He shows no loyalty to his brother. Once again, this shows a breakdown of the old ways. In Johannesburg, it is each man for himself.
Although the picture is generally bleak, there are still some good things taking place. At Enzenzelani, for example, white people dedicate themselves to helping blind black people. And Mr. Carmichael, the lawyer, is prepared to defend a black man in a murder trial and not ask for any fee. This is typical of the book as a whole. It does not show all white people as heartless or as racists, so there is some hope for the future of South Africa.

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