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

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CHAPTER 10

Kumalo plays with Gertrude's little boy while waiting to go to Shanty Town with Msimangu. He enjoys telling him about the beauty of Natal, until he remembers that now the hills are eroded and the earth is red and barren. Like philosophers and religious men from all eras of human history, Kumalo is struggling with the problem of evil. If God is good, why is it that people must suffer so much pain? Kumalo is somewhat like Job in the Bible, a good man who loses his belongings and even his children. Like him, Kumalo concludes that God's ways are mysterious and not to be questioned. Instead one should take joy in what one does have. But this answer has never satisfied social reformers, and even Msimangu has trouble with it, as you saw in Chapter 5.

Msimangu soon arrives, and takes Kumalo to Shanty Town. Some building is underway, and a few blacks are being allowed to train in white institutions as doctors and nurses. A nurse directs them to Mrs. Hlatshwayo, who says Absalom has been sent to the reformatory. Kumalo is crushed, though both he and Msimangu admit they've been expecting this. The priest from England, Father Vincent, has told Msimangu the reform school is a good place where boys who want to can change their ways. They begin their hour-long walk from Shanty Town into Orlando and on to the school.



NOTE: Paton draws heavily upon his own experiences as principal at Diepkloof for the school and the young white official whom Kumalo and Msimangu meet.

Msimangu and Kumalo arrive at the school at noon, astonished at the number of boys there. A pleasant black man takes them to a young white official who speaks Afrikaans. Msimangu speaks Afrikaans as well as Zulu and English, and Kumalo is embarrassed that he does not. The white man says Kumalo may speak what he wishes. He goes on to say that Absalom did so well at the school that he has been released to marry a girl he made pregnant. He has a job, and he's even saved some money. Kumalo is stunned, but agrees the real question is whether Absalom will lead a good life from now on. After lunch the white man drives them to Pimville, a village made out of storage tanks cut in half as emergency housing only, but still in use. He needs permission to enter, since Pimville is for blacks only. He is perhaps even more stunned than Msimangu and Kumalo to learn that Absalom's girl hasn't seen him for days. The girl herself, born and raised in Johannesburg, is defeated and doesn't seem to expect much of life. Kumalo feels compassion for her, but Msimangu, thinking he knows the type, angrily tells Kumalo he can't even be sure the baby is Absalom's. And even if it is, how many more are there? Does Kumalo plan to hunt up all of them? Deeply hurt, Kumalo waits silently in the car. Meanwhile you learn that Absalom hasn't been at work that week, either. The white man is depressed, but says he will continue the search, as he drops off the two black priests where they can catch a train.

Msimangu, who has been silent, now begs Kumalo to forgive him for his sharp words. Why, in your opinion, is Kumalo so quick to understand and forgive his friend? He reminds Msimangu that he himself said priests are but weak men whom God has touched. Still, the fact that Msimangu and the reformatory official are so bitterly discouraged helps us realize there are no quick, easy answers to racial problems in Johannesburg.

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