Cry the Beloved Country: Novel Summary: Book I Chapters 9-12

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Book I Chapters 9-12

 

Book I: Chapters 9-12
Chapter 9 explores the problem of housing shortages for black people in Johannesburg, by weaving together snatches of conversation by unnamed blacks. It transpires that the people have taken the initiative themselves, inspired by black activists such as Dubula. They build up Shanty Town almost overnight, from whatever bits and pieces they can find-iron, sacks, poles. The newspapers cover the story, and the whites, ashamed of their neglect, come and put up some crude houses too. But none of the new residents of Shanty Town knows what they will do when it rains, or when winter comes.
In Shanty Town, Msimangu and Kumalo discover that a magistrate has sent Absalom to a reformatory nearby. They walk for an hour to the reformatory. A young white man tells them that Absalom did well at the reformatory, and he has great hopes for the boy's future. Absalom left one month ago, mainly because there was a girl who was pregnant by him. The young man thought that Absalom was willing to marry the girl and look after her and the baby. He tells Kumalo that Absalom is now living in a nearby village called Pimville, where he has a job. He is reported to be doing well. The young white man takes them to Pimville, but there they hear bad news from Absalom's girlfriend. He has been missing for several days, and she has no idea when or if he will return. Kumalo and Msimangu return to Orlando, disappointed.
They take the train back to Sophiatown. In the evening, the Evening Star newspaper reports that a respected white man, a young city engineer named Arthur Jarvis, has been shot dead in his home by black assailants. A black servant was also injured in the attack.
Chapter 12, like chapter 9, is a "choral" chapter, in which different white voices are presented as they discuss what must be done about the crime problem. Some want more police and heavier sentences for criminals. Others say the "natives" must be presented with worthy goals to strive for, otherwise crime will continue. Some advocate more education for blacks, or the building of recreation centers, or the enforcement of the pass-laws that regulate the movements of people. Others want South Africa to be divided into white and black areas. No one can agree on what course to take.
Meanwhile, the police are looking for Absalom. Kumalo is fearful of the reason why, which no one as yet knows.
Analysis
These chapters further dramatize the social problems of Johannesburg. As an industrial city it has attracted labor from outlying towns and villages, but there is not enough housing for them. Living conditions are poor, and wages in the mines are low. The building of Shanty Town is an act of desperation, because the black people know that the authorities will never build enough houses for them. It is also an example of black self-reliance. Organized by the activist Dumula, they take action to solve their own problems, and as Dumula well knows, the whites are then shamed into constructing more housing.
The second problem dramatized in these chapters is rising crime rates and the fear this engenders in the white population. But they cannot agree on how to reduce it. Most are limited by their own inability to think in terms other than race; they do not regard blacks as their equals, so cannot come up with any solution that will genuinely alleviate the problem. The exception to this is the man who is murdered. As later chapters will show, Arthur Jarvis was a man who managed to escape the prison of race and to think in an enlightened way about social problems. The fact of his murder, by a black man, is a crushing irony.

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