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

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CHAPTER 17

The point of view shifts to Mrs. Lithebe. She doesn't need to rent rooms, but is glad to have a priest in the house. She admires Kumalo for saving Gertrude, and it saddens her to see him so tragic-looking. She will not have him hurt further in her house. She readily agrees to take in the girl made pregnant by his son, and he gets her, using some of the last of his money from the cocoa tin. In what ways does Mrs. Lithebe find the girl to be different from Gertrude? Afraid that Gertrude may be leading the girl astray, Mrs. Lithebe carefully instructs her on proper behavior. The girl changes, and Gertrude finds her own amusement.



The point of view now shifts back to Kumalo, visiting the prison. The possible marriage and the hiring of a lawyer bring a spark of life to Absalom's eyes. Again Kumalo is tempted to be cruel and to force Absalom to admit the other two boys were never real friends. But this time compassion wins out. He holds his son's hands and gives him hope. As Kumalo leaves, the lawyer enters, and Kumalo meets him later at the Mission House. Mr. Carmichael is taking Absalom's case pro deo ("for God," that is, free). He would not defend clients who held to a lie, but he will defend Absalom. Still, he is not optimistic about the outcome.

Let's pause a moment to add up the clues that what has happened to Absalom is not just one family's problem, but a situation that summarizes racial issues in South Africa. In Chapter 14 you saw a white reformatory official grieving that his efforts had failed. You saw a black man abandon family and tribal loyalty to save his son, and a white priest violate the country's segregation code to take a black priest's hand in his own. In Chapter 15 you saw the same priest's willingness to use his white contacts to help blacks. In Chapter 16 you saw once more how conditions in Johannesburg undermine the moral sense of young blacks. And in this chapter you saw a white lawyer take a black youth's case for free. Clearly the issue is not just one murder committed by one young black, but flaws in a society that make such crimes almost inevitable and disturb blacks and whites alike.

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