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

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CHAPTER 14

The same day there is a great bustle at Mrs. Lithebe's. Buyers are carrying off Gertrude's decrepit furniture and fine aluminum pots and pans, while Kumalo prepares to play with his nephew. Then Msimangu and the young reformatory official appear, and the young man confirms Kumalo's worst fears. Absalom has been arrested for killing Arthur Jarvis, and John's son was one of the other boys. Kumalo cannot fathom what drives any man, much less his own son, to murder. He nods dumbly as the young man and Msimangu talk, and fumbles around him, not realizing he has already put on his coat and picked up his cane. Gertrude and Mrs. Lithebe wail with grief in the traditional way as Kumalo sets off for John's shop. He shuffles like someone very old or sick. For a moment, visualize this scene as if it were occurring in a film. The camera focuses closely on Kumalo's fumbling hands, staring eyes, and dragging feet. What do you conclude about his emotional state?



When Kumalo reaches his brother's shop, John doesn't notice these physical signs of distress. He jokes. Has Kumalo found the prodigal yet?

NOTE: THE PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON Prodigal means recklessly wasteful. A parable is a story about everyday people that ends with a moral. The parable of the prodigal appears in the Gospel according to Luke, Chapter 15. A rich farmer has two sons. The older one stays home and works hard, but the younger demands his inheritance, goes off to the city, and wastes it all in high living. His so-called friends disappear, and the prodigal soon considers himself lucky to get a job feeding pigs. When he notices that the pigs eat better than he does, he decides to go and apologize to his father, and ask if he may become merely a hired hand. He barely gets a chance to speak. His father is so happy that he kills a calf fattened for market and throws a huge party. The older brother is jealous, but the father explains that it's as if his brother has come back to life. The moral is that heaven rejoices when a sinner repents. John means Absalom by the prodigal, but it's interesting to think of John himself as a prodigal. Does it seem likely, though, that John will ever have a change of heart?

John's joking fades when Kumalo tells him Absalom has been arrested for killing Arthur Jarvis. John is afraid to ask about his own son, but Kumalo's silence conveys the message. John murmurs as Kumalo once did, "Tixo, Tixo." At the mission Father Vincent takes Kumalo's hands and offers to help, and the white man drives the Kumalos to the prison. John sees his son alone, but the young white man goes with Kumalo.

Like a parent worried sick until a lost child turns up, Kumalo grows angry when he faces his boy at last. He tortures both the boy and himself with questions that have no answers. Absalom did shoot Arthur, but unintentionally, out of fear. Absalom weeps, but maybe even he doesn't know whether it's out of sorrow for himself, the girl, or the man he killed, or simply out of frustration at being endlessly asked why.

Outside, John Kumalo is almost cheerful again. He proposes hiring a lawyer who will lie. Kumalo is stunned. How different John turns out to be from the noble Dubula. In Kumalo's mind, John will abandon family loyalty and truth itself for his own benefit. Kumalo looks to the reformatory official for help, but that dedicated man is also so bitterly upset that he offers only anger. He says he's in the soul-saving business just like any priest, and look what he gets. They leave separately, and Kumalo remembers Father Vincent's offer.

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