Study Guide

James Jarvis in Cry, the Beloved Country

By Alan Paton

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James Jarvis

James Jarvis owns a wealthy farm accurately named "High Place" in the hills above Ndotsheni. Like Kumalo, Jarvis travels to Johannesburg because of family tragedy: his son, Arthur, is Absalom's shooting victim. We get even less access to Jarvis's background and internal thoughts than we do Kumalo's. Still, Jarvis becomes one of the main focuses of the narrator in Book 2 of the novel.

In a sense, Jarvis's character exists mainly as a way for us to get to know Arthur's liberal politics after his death. Following Arthur's murder, Jarvis reflects, "But I wish now that I'd known more of him. You see, the things that he did, I've never had much to do with that sort of thing" (2.20.94). Jarvis's heartbreaking, totally relatable desire to discover more about his dead son's interests allows the novel to frame Arthur's philosophies with even more sympathy and emotion than they might otherwise have. It's through Jarvis that the novel invites the reader to learn more about "that sort of thing"—in other words, Arthur's reform plans and liberal ideas.

Together, both Kumalo and Jarvis provide models for the forgiveness and generosity that Paton hopes people will offer in response to the tragedies that come out of South Africa's unfair political and economic systems.

Kumalo reacts to his son's crime by working to improve education and farming opportunities for the youth of his home village. Jarvis, in turn, chooses not to be bitter and angry following Arthur's shooting (even though that's what his friend and in-law John Harrison suggests). Instead, Jarvis offers financial and planning support for Kumalo's reform projects.

When Kumalo thanks Jarvis at the end of the novel for his generosity, Jarvis says somewhat confusingly: "I have seen a man […] who was in darkness till you found him" (3.36.33). We think that the "man" Jarvis mentions is Jarvis himself, and that the "you" is Kumalo. Until Kumalo finds Jarvis at Barbara Smith's house (in an episode we describe in our "Character Analysis" of Sibeko's daughter), Jarvis is looking for something to do to make his son's death meaningful.

With his encounter with Absalom's father, Jarvis finds a new purpose in his life: he gives money to help the oppressed Zulus living right next to his home farm. Because Jarvis is willing to listen to Kumalo with an open heart, he gets the chance to make sure that there will be more opportunities for the Absaloms of the next generation.

To be honest, we sometimes find Jarvis's loving and generous responses to Kumalo to be almost superhuman—maybe even a little hard to believe. But we think that Paton is trying to show the ideal behavior of a humble man with the means to help his oppressed neighbors, as opposed to the more grittily realist novels of later South African writers such as J.M. Coetzee or Nadine Gordimer.

James Jarvis in Cry, the Beloved Country Study Group

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