Cry, the Beloved Country

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Absalom Kumalo Character Analysis

Stephen Kumalo’s son. Absalom is led astray by Johannesburg and the people with whom he associated, leading to his accidental murder of Arthur Jarvis during a botched robbery. Absalom is found guilty of the crime and sentenced to death. He is afraid, but eventually comes to a kind of peace before his death. He also faces up to his responsibilities as a father by marrying his pregnant girlfriend, and providing all he can for his unborn child before his execution.

Absalom Kumalo Quotes in Cry, the Beloved Country

The Cry, the Beloved Country quotes below are all either spoken by Absalom Kumalo or refer to Absalom Kumalo. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Scribner edition of Cry, the Beloved Country published in 2003.
Book I, Chapter 3 Quotes

The journey had begun. And now the fear back again, the fear of the unknown, the fear of the great city where boys were killed crossing the street, the fear of Gertrude’s sickness. Deep down the fear for his son. Deep down the fear of a man who lives in a world not made for him, whose own world is slipping away, dying, being destroyed, beyond any recall.

Related Characters: Stephen Kumalo, Absalom Kumalo, Gertrude Kumalo
Related Symbols: Johannesburg
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has described the train journey to Johannesburg; the train goes through the hills, and beautiful plants grow along the side of the tracks. Stephen has arrived for the train an hour early, feeling anxious about the trip. In this passage, the narrator describes Stephen's fears about Johannesburg, Gertrude, and Absalom. To some extent, these fears are concrete, based on the knowledge that Gertrude is sick, and that in the city traffic is so dangerous people are killed simply by crossing the street. However, Stephen's anxiety is also more fundamental and abstract. At this stage, he doesn't know what has become of Absalom, but (correctly) assumes that all is not well. 

Meanwhile, the narrator's comment that Stephen is "a man who lives in a world not made for him, whose own world is slipping away" highlights the fact that his worries pertain to something deeper than this specific trip to Johannesburg. Colonization and modernization have ushered in a new South Africa, one that is hostile to Stephen and, ultimately, to black South Africans in general. The narrator's words foreshadow the coming apartheid regime, which––although it has not yet been established––seems to be contained under the surface of the existing landscape of the country. 

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Book II, Chapter 28 Quotes

The Judge rises, and the people rise. But not all is silent. The guilty one falls to the floor, crying and sobbing. And there is a woman wailing, and an old man crying Tixo, Tixo. No one calls for silence, though the Judge is not quite gone. For who can stop the heart from breaking?

Related Characters: Stephen Kumalo, Absalom Kumalo, Absalom’s girlfriend
Page Number: 226-227
Explanation and Analysis:

Absalom's trial has taken place, and the two other men accused of being accomplices to the murder have been acquitted. Although the judge acknowledges Absalom's honest confession and display of remorse, he concludes that he must still find Absalom guilty, and sentences him to death. In this passage, the narrator describes the reaction to the sentencing within the courtroom. On one level, the atmosphere is calm and disciplined––"the Judge rises, and the people rise"––representing the triumph of law and order. At the same time, there is emotional chaos: Absalom falls to the ground, his girlfriend wails, and an old man (presumably Stephen) cries "Tixo, Tixo," the Xhosa word for "God." Once again, the narrator returns to the theme of brokenness––the country, tribe, land, and now "the heart" are all broken.

Book II, Chapter 29 Quotes

… he prayed for his son. Tomorrow they would all go home, all except his son. And he would stay in the place where they would put him, in the great prison in Pretoria, in the barred and solitary cell; and mercy failing, would stay there till he was hanged. Aye, but the hand that had murdered once pressed the mother’s breast into the thirsting mouth, had stolen into the father’s hand when they went out in the dark. Aye, but the murderer afraid of death had once been a child afraid of the night.

Related Characters: Stephen Kumalo, Absalom Kumalo
Related Symbols: Johannesburg
Page Number: 239
Explanation and Analysis:

There has been a going-away party for Stephen, who will be returning to Ixopo and taking Gertrude and Absalom's wife with him. Meanwhile, Msimangu has given up all of his money and possessions to help repay what Stephen has spent in Johannesburg. Alone, Stephen counts the money, thinks regretfully about his fight with his brother, and prays for his son. He recalls Absalom as an innocent baby, reflecting on the astounding fact that the little boy he remembers grew up to commit murder. Once again, this passage focuses on the theme of corruption, and the way in which Johannesburg so drastically altered the course of Absalom's life. Note also that Stephen describes Absalom's childhood fear of the dark, a detail that emphasizes the destructive force of fear. 

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Absalom Kumalo Character Timeline in Cry, the Beloved Country

The timeline below shows where the character Absalom Kumalo appears in Cry, the Beloved Country. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book I, Chapter 2
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Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon
...how many people he has known who have gone to Johannesburg and vanished, including his son Absalom, brother John, and sister Gertrude. None of them have written in a long time. (full context)
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...and shows it to his wife. They ponder who might have sent the letter: though Absalom didn’t send it, it might concern him, or it might be from John. They comment... (full context)
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...can't bring himself to actually use it because the money was meant to send his son Absalom to school. Stephen’s wife insists, however, that the money is no longer necessary because... (full context)
Book I, Chapter 3
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...and a story about a woman he knew who went there and saw her twelve-year-old son crushed to death by a truck. Beneath these concerns, there is another one – where... (full context)
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...fears begin to rise up inside of him – fear for his sister, fear for Absalom, fear that his whole world is crumbling. He feels ill from the false impression he... (full context)
Book I, Chapter 5
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...sorrow. After struggling to get it out, he reveals that he is very worried about Absalom, and how his son has not been heard from for so long. Msimangu assures him... (full context)
Book I, Chapter 6
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After they are finished praying, Stephen asks if Gertrude knows where Absalom is. She says she is not sure, but their brother John will know. Stephen says... (full context)
Book I, Chapter 7
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...woman, and that this is a wise idea. Then, Stephen asks if John knows where Absalom might be. John says that Absalom and his own son were friendly with one another,... (full context)
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They are unsuccessful locating Absalom at the factory, and trace him to a house in Sophiatown. He is not there,... (full context)
Book I, Chapter 8
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The next day, Stephen and Msimangu continue to search for Absalom. They catch a bus after Msimangu assures Stephen that they cannot catch a wrong one,... (full context)
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...finally arrive at the house. The woman inside reluctantly lets them in. She says that Absalom and his cousin have been gone for a while. She is reluctant to answer questions,... (full context)
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...Stephen is an old man who is suffering, and that they are only seeking Stephen's son. The woman still refuses to talk. Finally, Msimangu agrees to swear on a Bible that... (full context)
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They seek out the taxi driver and ask him about Absalom. The driver seems very afraid. After Msimangu explains why they are seeking out Absalom, the... (full context)
Book I, Chapter 10
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Before they go to the shantytown to find Absalom, Stephen spends some time with Gertrude’s son. Stephen plays with the little boy, telling him... (full context)
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...worries about the rain and the winter. They find a nurse, and ask her about Absalom. She confirms that he was here, once, but is no longer. She sends them to... (full context)
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In Pimville, they locate the girl. She seems wretched and miserable. She tells Stephen that Absalom has been missing for days. Msimangu flies into a rage, telling Stephen to abandon this... (full context)
Book I, Chapter 11
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...few days, while he and the man from the reformatory do some work in locating Absalom. Stephen agrees. That evening, as all of the priests are conversing, a priest comes in... (full context)
Book I, Chapter 12
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A woman comes to Msimangu, telling him the police were looking for Absalom. Msimangu tries to deal with this without telling Stephen, but Stephen sees him going out.... (full context)
Book I, Chapter 13
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...for Msimangu to complete his duties there, Stephen sits in the sun and meditates on Absalom, Absalom's girlfriend, and their unborn child. Stephen wonders what he and his wife had done... (full context)
Book I, Chapter 14
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...ask if they might speak to him. Inside, the bad news is revealed: it was Absalom who shot and killed Arthur Jarvis, and his cousin, John’s son, was one of the... (full context)
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...with Stephen before he hears the news. He is immediately subdued, and then, remembering that Absalom and his own son are friends, becomes afraid. Stephen confirms what John fears—that his son... (full context)
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When they arrive at the prison, Stephen and John are separated, and each son is brought to them. Stephen tells Absalom... (full context)
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Finally, Stephen asks his son why he chose to do these things. Absalom blames it on his “bad companions.” When... (full context)
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As he is leaving the prison, Stephen finds John. John says that he is going to hire a lawyer for his... (full context)
Book I, Chapter 15
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...man apologizes for his earlier anger, and insists that Stephen get a lawyer for two reasons: because he does not trust John regarding the story involving his own son, and also... (full context)
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...He marvels at how so many boys get lost and go astray in Johannesburg—why their son, in this particular way, when there are thousands of others? Father Vincent tells him that... (full context)
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Stephen responds to this bitterly—how could his son not be lost? Father Vincent reminds him that there was a robber hung next to... (full context)
Book I, Chapter 16
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...of abandonment and loss, he discovers that she has been with three men, including his son, since leaving home. Stephen is angry with this, and testing her, asks if he can... (full context)
Book I, Chapter 17
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Stephen asks Mrs. Lithebe if she would also be willing to take in Absalom’s pregnant girlfriend. He says that he will eventually bring her back with him, but until... (full context)
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Stephen returns to prison to visit Absalom. Stephen asks after his health, and then asks him, again, if he... (full context)
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...for no money. He talks to Stephen about the information that he needs to defend Absalom. After he leaves, Stephen marvels that a man would take such a case for nothing. (full context)
Book II, Chapter 22
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The murder trial of Absalom Kumalo begins. The charges of murder are laid before the court and the accused. Absalom... (full context)
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Absalom and the prosecutor have a long exchange about the details of the day of the... (full context)
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When the prosecutor resumes questioning, Absalom continues to insist that the other two men were with him. He also tells the... (full context)
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...and backs file out separate doors. Stephen notices that James, the father of the man Absalom killed, is there in the court. Stephen looks away, because he cannot bear to see... (full context)
Book II, Chapter 23
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While Absalom’s trial is going on, new gold is discovered in South Africa, and everyone’s attention becomes... (full context)
Book II, Chapter 25
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...on Stephen's reaction on seeing him. Stephen hesitates, and finally reveals that it was his son, Absalom, who murdered Arthur. James leaves for a moment, walks into the garden for a... (full context)
Book II, Chapter 27
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...man shot by a black intruder. The woman, who has been accompanying Mrs. Lithebe to Absalom’s trial, suggests that this does not bode well for Absalom, and Mrs. Lithebe agrees. Msimangu... (full context)
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...Lithebe is pleased with this plan, but she asks what will be done with Gertrude’s son. Gertrude says that she thinks Stephen’s wife can raise him better than she can, but... (full context)
Book II, Chapter 28
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The day of the court’s judgment of Absalom arrives. The judge begins with the issue of the other two men in question, Absalom’s... (full context)
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The judge continues on the issue of Absalom. He admits that Absalom has confessed to, in a very straightforward manner, the crime that... (full context)
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But, he continues, the issue at the heart of the case is whether or not Absalom intended to kill. Though he insists that he did not, the evidence of him bringing... (full context)
Book II, Chapter 29
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Father Vincent, Stephen, Gertrude, Msimangu, and Absalom’s girlfriend go to see him in prison. Absalom seems to believe, for a moment, that... (full context)
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They go to the prison chapel. Father Vincent performs the marriage. After it is over, the others leave, and Stephen... (full context)
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After they leave the prison, Stephen goes to visit his brother at his carpenter shop. John agrees that it is... (full context)
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...are also preparing to leave Johannesburg. James leaves a large sum of money to John Harrison to start a club, possibly in Arthur Jarvis’s name. (full context)
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...fight with his brother and the lie that he told him, and prays for his son. He sleeps, and when he wakes, prays for Msimangu. He wakes up Absalom’s wife, and... (full context)
Book III, Chapter 30
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Stephen, Gertrude’s son, and Absalom’s wife return home. Gertrude’s son inquires after his mother, but Stephen tells him... (full context)
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...many parishioners are waiting for him. He begins to pray with them, praying for Gertrude’s son and Gertrude and Absalom’s wife, and for Absalom. Afterwards, he turns to his friend and... (full context)
Book III, Chapter 32
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...them is from Mr. Carmichael. It explains that there was to be no mercy, and Absalom would be executed in just over two weeks. Stephen shows the letter to his wife.... (full context)
Book III, Chapter 36
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The day before Absalom is to be executed, Stephen tells his wife that he needs to go into the... (full context)
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...remember. Stephen falls asleep, but then wakes up again. He knows that at dawn, his son will be executed, and so he waits for dawn. He thinks about South Africa and... (full context)
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Stephen falls asleep again, and wakes just before dawn. He wonders about his son, about what he must be thinking and doing this hour before his death. He wonders... (full context)