Study Guide

Minor Characters in Cry, the Beloved Country

By Alan Paton

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Minor Characters

John Harrison

Okay, this family relation is kind of complicated: John Harrison is Mary Jarvis's brother. Mary Jarvis is Arthur Jarvis's widow. So we guess he's, like, James Jarvis's son-in-law? Sort of? Anyway, the important point here is that John Harrison was great friends with his late brother-in-law, Arthur Jarvis. John respects Arthur's desire for reform. Before Arthur's death, the two of them were planning to form a club for liberals to advocate for change in South Africa.

After Arthur's death, John Harrison talks to Jarvis about Arthur's politics. It's like a whole new world to Jarvis, who has never thought anything in particular about the racial inequality in South Africa. But after reading through his son's manuscripts and materials, Jarvis decides to give John Harrison a thousand pounds to start the reform club that he and Arthur discussed. He tells John Harrison: "Do all the things you and Arthur wanted to do. If you like to call it the "Arthur Jarvis Club," I'll be pleased" (2.29.151).

Mr. and Mrs. Harrison

The Harrisons are the parents of Arthur's widow, Mary Jarvis. James and Margaret Jarvis stay at the Harrisons' house while Absalom's trial is going on after Arthur's murder. We don't really find out anything about Mrs. Harrison, but Mr. Harrison is more distinctive. And by distinctive, we mean racist. He's the only named character in the book who actually promotes the conservative viewpoints that the Jarvises are trying to fight.

In a way, the worst part of Mr. Harrison's politics is that they are not as brutal as they could be. Basically, Mr. Harrison just doesn't want anything to change. He is comfortable the way he is, with the power that he assumes as a white man of English (rather than Afrikaner) descent. He doesn't want to make things worse for black Africans, but he sure as heck doesn't want to make them better either.

But his laziness and satisfaction with the way things are makes it really hard to imagine changing his mind about the racism of South Africa. In fact, when he hears news of strikes for better pay, he starts saying some very ugly things to James Jarvis. He actually goes so far as to say that, "the natives as a whole are getting out of hand" (2.21.16). Mr. Harrison gives a face to the kind of racism and selfishness that South African reformers have to overcome.

Mary Jarvis

She's Arthur's widow. Again, as with many of the woman characters in this book, we know very little about her. For more on gender in this novel, check out our analyses of Gertrude and Absalom's girl.

The Youngest Jarvis

One of Mary's two children with Arthur Jarvis, the youngest Jarvis comes riding by Ndotsheni a couple of times in Book 3 of the novel. He is an eager, curious boy who likes practicing Zulu with Kumalo. He is also good-hearted: when Kumalo explains to the boy that the children of Ndotsheni are getting sick because they do not have enough milk to drink, the boy goes back to his grandfather James Jarvis to explain. Thanks to the boy's concern, Jarvis arranges for regular deliveries of milk to be made to Kumalo, to distribute among the kids of the village.

Clearly, this kid is going to follow in his father's footsteps. In fact, Kumalo observes that "there is a brightness inside him" (3.36.22), much as he noticed that "there was a brightness in" (2.25.58) Arthur Jarvis when he saw him riding past Ndotsheni as a child. The youngest Jarvis demonstrates that, even though Arthur has died, his ideals will live on in the next generation.

Margaret Jarvis

Margaret Jarvis plays the same role of mourning partner that Stephen Kumalo's anonymous wife plays—though, unlike Kumalo's wife, at least Margaret gets a name. She is James Jarvis's wife and Arthur Jarvis's mother. Margaret rarely gets much to do, but her presence in the background of the Jarvis family's actions reminds us of the pain and tragedy she has suffered with the death of her son.

Johannes Pafuri

Johannes Pafuri is one of the three men who robs Arthur Jarvis's house (along with Matthew and Absalom Kumalo). Johannes used to work for the Jarvis household, which is how he knew that the family was supposed to be away. And when they knock out the servant in the kitchen, the servant recognizes Johannes in spite of his mask because he has a distinctive eye twitch.

According to Absalom's statement to the cops, this whole thing is Johannes Pafuri's idea. But even though Johannes Pafuri is the one who plans the burglary, the judge decides that there is no definite proof of his guilt beyond Absalom's word. After all, the judge points out, lots of people could have twitches. So Johannes Pafuri does not even have to go to prison, while Absalom is executed. The book keeps emphasizing that the judge has no choice but to follow the law, even if it seems unfair. But still, we have to ask: where is the justice in this legal decision?

Matthew Kumalo

Matthew is John Kumalo's son and Absalom Kumalo's cousin. Matthew and Absalom become thieves together in Johannesburg. When these two Kumalos are arrested on suspicion of the Arthur Jarvis burglary, John immediately hires a lawyer for his son and Johannes Pafuri. He encourages his son to lie about his involvement in the crime, and to turn on his cousin.

After Absalom's conviction and Matthew's release from prison, Stephen Kumalo confronts John. John Kumalo is defensive about the whole thing and says that Absalom's fate is in no way his fault. But at the same time, the fact that John was willing to sell out Absalom to save Matthew—and the fact that John persists in making angry speeches, even though it's going to lead to violence—clearly ruins Stephen's opinion of his brother forever.

Richard Mpiring

Johannes Pafuri, one of Absalom Kumalo's fellow thieves, knocks out the servant Richard Mpiring when they break into Arthur Jarvis's house. Richard Mpiring gives evidence that it was Johannes Pafuri who knocked him out, but the judge decides that his evidence is not believable. So Johannes Pafuri goes free.

The Judge

Before the judge for Absalom's case hands down his decision, he tells everyone it's not his fault. He has to follow the law. And according to the law, Absalom has not proved that he did not intend to murder Arthur Jarvis that night.

While Mr. Carmichael, the lawyer for the defense, has argued that Absalom is just a poor kid led astray by city life, the judge points out that Absalom did kill someone, and he can't prove that it was an accident. After all, why was he carrying a gun in the first place, if he never intended to use it?

So while the judge shows some personal sympathy for Absalom, he has still has to condemn the poor kid to death according to the laws of the land. As the judge says in his closing statement, it's the judge's job to carry out the laws on the books, not to make those laws. It's the responsibility of the larger society to decide what is right and wrong, and what the laws should say.

Barbara Smith

Barbara Smith is the niece of Margaret Jarvis. Since she lives in Johannesburg near the courthouse, the Jarvises spend the breaks in the trial during the day at her house. Kumalo meets Jarvis face-to-face for the first time when he comes to Barbara Smith's house to track down a girl from Ndotsheni who has disappeared. To find out more about Barbara Smith as a tool to bring Kumalo and Jarvis together, see below for our analysis of Sibeko's daughter.

Napoleon Letsitsi

Napoleon Letsitsi is the Xosa "agricultural demonstrator" (3.33.44) James Jarvis hires to teach the people of Ndotsheni better farming techniques, so that their land will be lush and fruitful once more. Mr. Letsitsi is an ambitious man who wants to build a dam and start a system of crop rotation (against the protests of some of the more conservative farmers, who don't want to let their lands just sit there without crops for part of the year). But it doesn't stop there: Mr. Letsitsi also represents a whole new generation of educated black professionals who want to work for the good of the entire nation.

When Kumalo scolds Mr. Letsitsi for saying that Jarvis is only paying back what he owes because "the white man […] took us away from the land to go to work" (3.35.29), Mr. Letsitsi apologizes. He doesn't want Kumalo—who is absolutely loyal to Jarvis—to think that he is ungrateful. But Mr. Letsitsi has a larger loyalty to in mind: "we do not work for men [… but] we work for the land and the people. We do not even work for money" (3.35.41).

Kumalo is impressed by Mr. Letsitsi's idealism, since Mr. Letsitsi wants to improve farming practices in Ndotsheni for the good of the land and the nation as a whole. But Kumalo is more old-fashioned. He remains attached to individuals like Jarvis and his own son, Absalom. He can't think in terms of the bigger picture.

The narrator concludes that, for Kumalo, the healing of the Umzimkulu River valley is enough. He can't take these larger ideas of working for the good of Africa as a whole. But the novel introduces Mr. Letsitsi so that we know that it's not enough to focus on reforms in one place. Even if you are working locally, you have to think about how your improvements can help to rebuild the whole nation. Mr. Letsitsi represents South Africa's hope for the future.

Kumalo's Wife

Kumalo is married, but you would hardly know it based on the action of this book. Most of Kumalo's conversations are with other men, especially Msimangu and Jarvis. While his wife does appear, primarily to mourn Absalom, she never says much—in fact, she never even gets a name. If you're interested in the topic of Cry, the Beloved Country and gender, we talk a little bit more about the book's somewhat, shall we say, limited portrayals of women in our analyses of Gertrude and Absalom's girl.

Sibeko's Daughter

This very minor character never appears directly in the book, but she does have an important role to play all the same. She disappeared into Johannesburg some time before the action of the book and has stopped writing home. A friend of Sibeko's asks Kumalo to look into her disappearance when he is in the city, and Kumalo agrees. In search of Sibeko's daughter, Kumalo goes to her last known employer, a white woman named Barbara Smith.

And it just so happens that Barbara Smith is the niece of Margaret Jarvis, James Jarvis's wife. So when Kumalo goes to ask Barbara Smith about Sibeko's daughter, he actually meets Jarvis face-to-face for the first time. Without this absent daughter of Sibeko, Kumalo and Jarvis would never have become allies. Sadly for Sibeko's daughter, it turns out that she got arrested for making illegal liquor and Barbara Smith fired her. So Kumalo never finds out what has happened to her. But from the novel's point of view, he work is done once Jarvis opens Barbara Smith's door and finds Kumalo standing there.

Mrs. Lithebe

Mrs. Lithebe is a member of Msimangu's church. She is also the widow of a builder, so she has a house to herself—a rare luxury for black women in Johannesburg. She is pleased and proud to have Kumalo stay with her, because she is a religious woman. She also welcomes Gertrude and Absalom's girl into the house because Kumalo asks her to. But while she likes Absalom's girlfriend because she is so obedient, Mrs. Lithebe and Gertrude clash several times.

The reason Mrs. Lithebe does not like Gertrude is because she thinks that Gertrude is careless and sloppy. She worries that Gertrude will not be respectable enough to live with her brother, the priest. And Mrs. Lithebe is pretty frank with Gertrude about her concerns, which obviously angers and frustrates Gertrude. When Gertrude runs away, abandoning her young son with Kumalo, Gertrude appears to prove all of Mrs. Lithebe's moral concerns about her absolutely right.


Esther is John Kumalo's former wife. He leaves her because she expects him to be faithful to her, and he doesn't want to be.

Mrs. Ndlela

Absalom lodges with Mrs. Ndlela before moving to Mrs. Mkize's house. When Kumalo and Msimangu are trying to track Absalom down, they find Mrs. Ndlela. Not only does she tell them that Absalom is staying with Mrs. Mkize, but she also warns Msimangu that Absalom might be involved in some thefts. She is pretty sure that, when Kumalo finds his son, he won't be happy with what he sees.

Mrs. Baby Mkize

Absalom and his two fellow burglars, Johannes Pafuri and Matthew Kumalo, run to Mrs. Mkize's house after shooting Arthur Jarvis. She owns the house where Absalom once lived, and they continue to be friendly. She hears the three men discussing the burglary and the death of Arthur. She is terrified of the police, but she is also terrified of Absalom's friends.

Mrs. Mkize appears on the witness stand, but her story does not agree with Absalom's. She claims that no one discussed any shooting in her presence, and that Absalom is lying about coming over to her house with his two friends after the failed break-in. Mrs. Mkize's evidence makes it hard for the judge to convict either Johannes Pafuri or Matthew Kumalo (and in fact, he finally finds them not guilty, since there is no definite evidence beyond Absalom's word that they were involved).

Professor Hoernle

Msimangu briefly mentions "the great fighter for us [black people]" (1.8.39), Professor Hoernle. According to Paton's note on the 1948 edition of Cry, the Beloved Country, Professor Hoernle was Professor of Philosophy at the University of the Witwatersrand in Pretoria. He was also a "great and courageous fighter for justice" (source). He is one of the only two real people (the other is Sir Ernest Oppenheimer [2.23.16]) who make it directly into the novel. This addition of a real professor into a fictional story makes the social issues of the novel appear even more realistic and pressing than they might otherwise seem.

Sir Ernest Oppenheimer

The real-life head of "a very important mining group (source, Note on the 1948 Edition). Alan Paton drops this guy's name to add some authenticity to chapter 23, the chapter on the discovery of gold in Odendaalsrust.

Tomlinson and Dubula

Tomlinson and Dubula are both politicians competing with John Kumalo for the hearts and minds of the people of Johannesburg. They envy his powerful voice, which makes his speeches all the more rousing and effective. When Dubula and Tomlinson listen to John Kumalo speaking, they feel contempt and envy, for "here is a voice to move thousands, with no brain behind it to tell it what to say" (2.26.3).

There is a brief episode in chapter Nine when Dubula arranges for a doctor to come to treat a sick child in the Shanty Town. Clearly, Dubula is trying to help where he can, but his main interest is in winning people's approval and staying popular.

The Hlatshwayos

Another of the families with which Absalom Kumalo stayed while in Johannesburg. He lived with the Hlatshwayos before getting sent to the reform school.

Mr. Carmichael

Absalom's lawyer. Mr. Carmichael takes the case for free because he believes in the justice of Absalom's claim—and also because Father Vincent asks him to.

Binnendyk and van Jaarsveld

Two local policemen stationed near James Jarvis's farm. They bring the news to the Jarvis family that Arthur has been killed.

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