Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton, takes place in1946 near the small rural town of Ixopo in the smaller village of Ndotsheni. The main character is Stephen Kumalo, a native priest who sets out on a mission to find his family. He receives a letter from a fellow priest, Msimangu, telling him his younger sister is ill. Kumalo decides he must go to Johannesburg to help his sister. He also hopes to find his only son and see if his brother is well because they too have gone away to Johannesburg. He arrives and with his new friend, Msimangu, searches for his sister and his son. He finds his sister and decides to take her and her son with him to Ndotsheni. He then speaks to his brother who has changed and forgotten his family. His brother helps get them started on their mission to find his son, Absalom. He eventually finds his son, but finds him in prison. Absalom murdered the only son of James Jarvis, a white man. A trial is held and Absalom is sentenced to death. Kumalo returns to his village and has suffered great pain but is welcomed. Through the tragedy he has made a connection with James Jarvis despite the fact his son murdered his. Jarvis is understanding and the two begin to rebuild the Ndotsheni community.
In Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton, one of the major themes is white destruction of South African’s native tribes. In the novel, whites come to South Africa in search of gold and use natives as their source of labor. They break apart the tribe and offer nothing to replace the broken homes. The title of the novel supports the pain that the white man’s destruction of the tribe is causing to the beloved country of Africa.
The title of the novel tells of the pain the natives of South Africa experience.
They cry on behalf of their country that they are watching go to waste. From the very beginning of the novel, the reader reads of a beautiful and rich valley. Then Paton goes on to describe the valley where the main character, Kumalo, lives. It is barren and “cannot hold the rain.” It is a valley of “old men and old women” that is deteriorating because the young people are not there to help take care of it (33-34). They all leave and go to the mines and the big cities, for the white man has convinced them this is where they belong.
The natives move to the cities to look for opportunities, but are only suppressed by the white man. The whites keep the natives stupid and do not want them to have more money or become smarter. They push the natives down for they fear “ a better-paid labour will also read more, think more, ask more, and will not be content to be forever voiceless and inferior” (110). The whites feel threatened by the possibility of equality with the natives. Therefore they deny them money, education and power so there will be no chance of equality.
The natives mostly cry because the whites split their tribes apart and their traditions are dying. The first time the title appears in the novel it reads:
Cry for the broken tribe, for the law and the custom that is gone. Aye, and cry aloud for the man who is dead the natives predominant advocate, for these women and children bereaved. Cry, the beloved country, these things are not yet at an end. The sun pours down on the earth, on the lovely land that man cannot enjoy. He knows only the fear of his heart. (104-105)
The natives are realizing they have lost many of the things that they hold dear. The white man is breaking their tribes and customs but there is nothing offered to replace it. There are few links between the white man and the black man and when one of them is broken, it is a great loss. The man who was killed was a link and a defender of the natives’ rights. He was murdered and this has caused the whites to fear and suppress the natives further. The natives have fear in their hearts because they see their families falling apart and fear it will only continue. The natives see the things around them falling apart and can do little to prevent it from continuing.
The people of South Africa are beginning to realize that not only is the tribe deteriorating, but also the people in general are beginning to deteriorate. The white man fears the crimes the natives are committing, but in fact, they are the ones responsible. When the white man takes away the tribal system, he is taking away the moral system of the natives. The reason the natives turn to crime is because their “simple system of order and tradition and convention has been destroyed” by the white man (179). Whites rob natives of their traditional moral system and replace it with nothing. This leaves the natives with no foundation for their morals and leads them towards a dishonest life. A priest in the novel says, “The tragedy is not that things are broken. The tragedy is that they are not mended again…It suited the white man to break the tribe, but it has not suited him to build something in the place of what is broken” (56). The white man fears the natives will become smart and powerful and overcome the superiority of the white race. However, because the white man exploits the natives for their personal gain instead of helping them, not just a tribal system declines, but a “whole people deteriorates” (179).
The natives turn to crime because their moral system has been destroyed and there is no where else to turn. Therefore, the whites simply blame the natives for their problems instead of looking for a solution to help them all.
Another thing the people of South Africa cry for is fear. They cannot enjoy the land when there is fear living inside all of them. They mostly fear the growing lawlessness of the country, yet they do not understand how to restore the law. Not all the white men are ignorant to the problems of the country and one of them says, “We shall always have native crime to fear until the native people of this country have worthy purposes to inspire them and worthy goals to work for” (107). However, the white man fears the industrious native almost as much as he fears the idle one. Because the white man can not make up his mind, nothing is done and the quality of life of the native is what is suffering. The native families are split up so they can work in the mines for the white man and their purposes in life are clouded. They have no worthy purposes because the white man will not allow them any.
The natives of South Africa are crying for their beloved country. They see it is in trouble and they cry out to help it. They continue working and praying for the dawn of a new Africa. They hope for a dawn of “emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear” (312).
This novel should be included in a list of works of high literary merit because of the impact it had on its readers. Paton wrote this book for enjoyment but also to prove a point. Through his novel, he told the story of South African natives that were in need of help. He has moving characters that give the reader a sense of compassion toward the natives. The events that unfold were important during the time that the novel was written, but will always apply to issues that unfold in our world today.
Paton, Alan. Cry, the Beloved Country