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

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CHAPTER 7

The next day, Kumalo starts searching for Absalom. He has already written his wife about the news so far, and has bought some decent clothes for Gertrude and the boy. Can you see that Kumalo's actions are both practical and symbolic? It's not just that Gertrude's clothes are too filthy to save. Clothes symbolize a style of living, too. Have you ever bought a new outfit, or carefully planned an ensemble, so that you would fit into a group on a special occasion? You can see, then, that the new clothes are closely linked with Gertrude's new life as a respectable young mother. (If she should happen to go back to prostitution, what do you predict might happen to the new clothes?)

Selling Gertrude's possessions is equally symbolic. It's like cleaning out files or closets for a fresh start. As for money, Kumalo finds it strange that his sister saved nothing when she earned so much.



But we can understand: she's a gambler, something Kumalo wouldn't be able to grasp. After all, he and his wife had managed to save money even on his small salary of 8 pounds per month.

NOTE: EXCHANGE RATE Today, South Africa's currency is called the rand, but in 1946 the old British system of pounds, shillings, and pence was used. At that time a South African pound was equivalent to $4.03, a shilling to 20 cents, and a penny to 1.6 cents.

Later, walking to John's shop with Msimangu, Kumalo decides it's true that the streets in Johannesburg seem endless. As for John, he has grown fat and has changed greatly. It's already been ten years since his wife Esther left him for being unfaithful, and he hasn't married the woman he lives with now. But he has a telephone and he earns 8 to 12 pounds a week. John prefers to speak English (what does that suggest to you?), and his oratory moves even his brother. He speaks of laws that favor the whites, mines that produce fortunes for whites while blacks toil there for three shillings a day, bishops in fine houses who criticize the laws but do not act, and white priests who earn six times what his brother gets. But John has been unable to persuade his own son to stay with him, and all he knows of Absalom is that he used to work at the Doornfontein Textiles Company in Sophiatown.

Back on the street, the priests discuss John. He is an influential speaker who could lead blacks to riot if he chose. Later you learn that black leaders do not respect John, but do value his effective speaking voice. Msimangu admits that much of what John says is true. His own theory is that whites need not fear blacks' acquiring money or power. The blacks would use it for their own comfort, not to control whites, as whites fear. The only hope he sees is for blacks and whites to work together in love for the good of the country. But Msimangu fears that long before that happens, whites will suffer the hatred of blacks for what they have done. Embarrassed by so strong a speech, he says they'd better hurry. Kumalo follows, weighted down with new ideas.

The textile company can't help much, though the men call in a worker who was friendly with Absalom. This man, Dhlamini, says to try Mrs. Ndlela at the edge of Sophiatown. She in turn directs them to Mrs. Mkize in Alexandra, but before they leave Mrs. Ndlela, Msimangu pulls her aside and asks why she looked at Kumalo with pity. She says he looks like a good man, and she's sorry he has a son she had to evict because she did not like his friends.

The day nearly gone, the priests return to the Mission House. Johannesburg hasn't made him happy, Kumalo says, but he is enjoying Msimangu's company.

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