Major Characters in Cry, the Beloved Country

The best character list I’ve found is Spark Notes. If you are struggling to keep people separate in your mind, I’d suggest you print it out for your reference as you read. Of course, if you’ve already finished the book, it might help you remember for our meeting on Wednesday!

I had intended to get this up last week, but as I was sick, here it is today! Don’t forget that our meeting is Wednesday night at 7 p.m. in the Harnish building. It will be downstairs in the Board Room.

Here are the characters that stood out to me, with some of my own thoughts. Ironically, the most important characters have the shortest blurbs. (I have lots about them in the questions!)

  • Stephen Kumalo. A native parson (unfundisi) in the poor, drought-ridden Ndotsheni valley; his wife is unnamed, simply Mrs. Kumalo. His only son (Absalom) has left home to search for his sister (Gertrude) who left for Johannesburg long ago. He has not heard from Absalom in more than a year.
  • James Jarvis. A wealthy English land-owner in the High Place near Ndotsheni; his wife is Margaret Jarvis.
  • Theophilus Msimangu. The reverend in Johannesburg; first name (used infrequently in book) means “friend of God” or “loves God.” Msimangu’s philosophy on South Africa: “There is only one thing that has power completely, and that is love. Because when a man loves, he seeks no power, and therefore has power. I see only one hope for our country, and that is when white men and black men, desiring neither power nor money, but desiring only the good of their country, come together and work for it. …I have only one fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving, they will find we are turned to hating.” (page 39-40)
  • Absalom Kumalo. The son of Stephen lost in Johannesburg; his Biblical namesake was banished for murder, and was later killed by David’s general. David lamented his son with the words: “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33). His name means “Father/Leader of/is peace” or “Salem is my Father.”
  • John Kumalo. The brother of Stephen; a man of politics. Notable quotes: “he has no use for the church anymore. He says that what God has not done for South Africa, man must do.” (says Msimangu describing John, page 25). “The church is too like the chief…A man must be faithful and meek and obedient … here is a chance to build a bigger house and buy a bigger car… It is built on our backs, on our sweat, on our labor. (says John, page 35-37). He has no shame and convinces his son to lie in order to be freed (page 101-102).
  • Arthur Jarvis is murdered by house intruders, and his wife Mary struggles to deal with his death. Arthur argued that blacks were not to blame. We learn about his life through James’ perspective, looking at Arthur’s office. (page 181). Like his mother and father, Arthur’s young son wants to learn from the natives; he particularly strikes up a relationship with Stephen Kumalo.
  • Gertrude Kumalo is Stephen’s sister, living in Johannesburg. Although Stephen arrives to take her home, she disappears the night they are the return to the country. Gertrude’s son returns with Kumalo.
  • Mrs. Lithebe. The landlady in Johannesburg; Kumalo and Msimangu call her Mother. “Why else do we live?” (page 119)
  • Father Vincent is a white Anglican priest from England; he counsels Kumalo to pray (page 110).
  • Absalom’s girlfriend is called The Girl throughout the novel. She is expecting his child and craves for a family to support and take care of her.
  • The young reformatory director. He’d worked with Absalom most recently and let him out of prison for good behavior. “I am sorry, umfundisi, that I spoke such angry words…I spoke like that because I was grieved and because I try to give myself to my work. And when my work goes wrong, I hurt myself and I hurt others also. But then I grow ashamed, and that is why I am here. (page 105)
  • John Harrison . Arthur’s brother-in-law; shares Arthur’s desires to help the native population.
  • Mr. Harrison. Arthur Jarvis’ in-laws in Johannesburg; James Jarvis stays with them during funeral arrangements. His philosophy on South Africa: “I’m not a nigger-hater, Jarvis. I try to give ‘em a square deal, decent wages…But the natives as a whole are getting out of hand.” (page 150).
  • Matthew Kumalo and Johannes Pafuri. Matthew is Absalom’s cousin. These two betray Absalom by denying his witness.

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