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Barron's Booknotes-Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton

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CHAPTER 5

New marvels await Kumalo, however, even inside the Mission House-indoor plumbing, hot, cold, and flushable; multiple plates and silverware at the table; black and white priests eating together. The priests beg for news of the rural areas. Kumalo reports, stressing how the traditional tribal structure is breaking down. They in turn tell Kumalo the breakdown is worse in the city. All of white Johannesburg fears young black men, and they do too since the night some young blacks attacked a black girl in Sophiatown. One begins to wonder-how does Absalom make his living?

After dinner, Kumalo meets privately with Msimangu. Msimangu tells Kumalo that Gertrude's sickness, grave as it is, is not physical. Instead of no husband, he says, "It would be truer to say... that she has many husbands."



NOTE: This is a sort of priest-to-priest shorthand. It paraphrases what Jesus said to a Samaritan woman who claimed she had no husband: "You are right..., for, although you have had five husbands, the man with whom you are now living is not your husband." It means that Gertrude is a prostitute.

Kumalo's immediate understanding is shown by his cry of "Tixo! Tixo!" (God! God!) But the story gets worse. Gertrude lives in Claremont, the "garbage heap" of Johannesburg. She makes and sells bad liquor and sleeps with anyone who can pay her price. Gambling, drinking, stabbings, even a murder have occurred at her place. And she has been in prison. Shaken, Kumalo refuses a calming cigarette, and absorbs this new information.

Then, with some embarrassment, he asks about Absalom and his brother John. Msimangu knows nothing of Absalom, but says that John has no use for the church anymore. John argues, "what God has not done for South Africa, man must do." Kumalo does not want the church to look bad, and wonders what the Bishop will think of a priest with such relatives. Msimangu says the Bishop knows that tragedies can occur even in a priest's family. Kumalo already knows about the whites' assigning blacks poor lands, and almost accidentally enticing the young to leave their families and come to the cities. Without repeating that information, Msimangu says it is white men's fault that young blacks abandon strict tribal morals and slide into crime. It doesn't seem possible to go back to old tribal ways, and neither blacks nor whites seem to know what should replace the old patterns. Msimangu is perplexed. If God has allowed white men to cause all this destruction, why does he send so few whites who even try to find ways to rebuild what their own kind have broken down?

Msimangu leaves Kumalo for the night, at a room in the house of Mrs. Lithebe, an old Msutu woman who speaks Zulu. Temporarily released from other duties, Msimangu will be back in the morning to give his time to Kumalo. Alone for the first time since he left home, Kumalo just stands there. Physical, mental, and emotional overload make it hard for him to believe that only two days have passed since he first held Msimangu's letter. At this point in the novel, do you have the feeling that things will work out well for Kumalo and his family? What is your evidence?

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Barron's Booknotes-Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton
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