Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton (Paton, 1948) is a classic story of South African apartheid in the years after World War II. The story is about a Stephen Kumalo a Black pastor who is searching for his son Absalom in Johannesburg. The son has been charged with killing Arthur Jarvis, a white activist for racial justice and who also happens to be the son of Kumalo’s neighbour James Jarvis. The paper provides a discussion of the crime of Aasalom and shows that Abasalom was not guilty enough to be hanged and that he would have lead a constructive life if he had been released.
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Was Abasalom Guilty?
To begin with, the guilt of Abasalom has not been fully proved. There were two other accused who had actually committed the crime but they were acquitted because they had a good lawyer. Like many other young people of his age and race, he had moved away from his native village and came to Johannesburg. Fresh from the country, he is young and impressionable and has fallen with criminals. Young Absalom has also been given a gun and the gun unfortunately goes off killing Arthur Jarvis. There are two other person with him named Johannes and Matthew who it seems are the real murderer. But in his innocence, Abasalom confesses to the police that it was indeed himself who fired the gun.
The police actually suspect Johanes for the crime and feel Abasalom is innocent but they cannot do anything since he has confessed everything. Johannes belongs to a well off family who have hired a lawyer and the argues that his clients were no where near the shooting and that Abasalom is needlessly dragging his clients into the murder. The fact is that Johanes has actually bought an iron bar, said it was blessed and he hit Arthur’s servant on the head with the bar but managed to run off.
Consider the following statement “Absalom resumed his narration: after the murder, he went to Mrs. Mkize’s house, where he met his accomplices, then buried his revolver in a plantation field. He says that anyone—Mrs. Mkize, Matthew, or Johannes—who denies this claim is lying. He then says that he prayed for forgiveness. He spent the following day wandering around Johannesburg and ended up in a friend’s house in Germiston. When the police found him there, they questioned him about Johannes, but Absalom told them that he himself shot Jarvis and indicated where the gun might be found. He meant to confess earlier, but he waited too long, and when the police arrived, he realized that waiting was a mistake.
The court adjourns, and outside Kumalo sees Jarvis. He says nothing, however, because he feels that there is nothing he can possibly say to him”. While Abasalom is ready to plead culpable homicide or accidental death, not amounting to murder as he had no intention of killing Arthur. The laws were made by white men to safeguard them against blacks. So it was Abasalom was found guilty and sentenced to death but he should have been given a lighter sentence (Chapter 12).
If Abasalom had been Released
If Abasalm had been released, then he would have definitely lead a more productive life. To begin with, he did not have a criminal background and came from a family where their father was a respect Pastor. He did not have any criminal activities before he came to the city to search for his sister Gertrude. He definitely would have made a productive life in some trade such as a carpenter, blacksmith or other such professions.
There is a change coming about in the minds of white people such as Arthur Jarvis, the white activist who was killed, hesays “This is no time to talk of hedges and fields, or the beauties of any country…. Cry for the broken tribe, for the law and the custom that is gone. Aye, and cry aloud for the man who is dead, for the woman and children bereaved. Cry, the beloved country, these things are not yet at an end” (Chapter 14).
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Also, the manner in which the whites view the blacks and the way in whic blacks view the whites is changing. Blacks are releasing that there is a change happening and that they are no more second class citizens. This quotation was given Stephen “And now for all the people of Africa, the beloved country. Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, God save Africa. But he would not see that salvation. It lay afar off, because men were afraid of it.
Because, to tell the truth, they were afraid of him, and his wife, and Msimangu, and the young demonstrator. And what was there evil in their desires, in their hunger? That man should walk upright in the land where they were born, and be free to use the fruits of the earth, what was there evil in it?… They were afraid because they were so few. And such fear could not be cast out, but by love”. (Chapter 28)
The paper has shown that Abasalom though he was guilty of firing the gun, he had no intention to kill Arthur so the sentence could have been reduced to culpable homicide and released after a few years in prison. The paper has also shown that Abasalom could have lead a productive life if he had been released.
Paton Alan. 1948. Cry The Beloved Country. Charles Scribner’s Sons. ISBN 0-7432-6217-4.