Throughout the novel the utmost noteworthy words are spoken by Msimangu, a black priest when he declared that he has one great fear in his heart that eventually the white citizens will turn to loving the blacks, which will turn to hating the Caucasians. (Paton 39) Alan Paton investigates the communal ways of life encompassing the citizens living in the heathen city of Johannesburg.
Paton wrote the novel when liberalism still seemed to provide an answer to South Africa’s problems. (Watson) He was a thinker and a visionary and saw the storm coming and watched it as it clouded the thoughts of the South Africans as the white minority extended its power and wealth by brutally and systematically repressing the majority native African population. (Armstrong) However, apartheid was commencing to take the upper hand over liberalism. The book, Cry, the Beloved Country was published and appeared three months before apartheid was institutionalized in South Africa. It was not long afterwards that the National Party, one whose policies of rigid racial separation, seemed destined to make Paton’s prophecy come true. (Villiers)
At the time of Alan Paton’s birth, South Africa-the country referred to in the title of the book-did not yet exist as a national or political entity. (Historical) One of the things Cry, the Beloved Country portrays is the troubled relationships between whites and blacks in the hedonist country of South Africa that as present in the middle-1940’s. Also during these times, were the nationwide encounters between black aspirations to human dignity and white fears for the loss of power and privilege. (Callan) Part of the problem was both of the races were demanding the other race to bow down to their culture, yet were unwilling to change their own. The urbanization of South Africa was detrimental to the country and the citizens alike. Paton had an excessive fear of a race confrontation, so much that he left South Africa to inscribe the novel. A universal truth of modernization and the disintegration of the family unit and tribal culture that once bonded people to place are seen throughout the novel as well as in the lives of many citizens in South Africa. (Armstrong) Throughout the book, Afrikaners were seen as darkness and the Europeans as light in a mixing pot of culture. (Hogan)
The book is said to be prophetical in a way, by predicting the upcoming political turmoil that would forever change relations. During this time period Africans were exploited, mistreated, and harassed unmercifully, while the whites were accountable for bigoted land distribution, sum growth, unjust laws, and the disintegration of native tribal structure. (Marcus)
“There is man sleeping in the grass, said (Stephen) Kumalo. And over him is gathering the greatest storm of all his days…People hurry home past him, to places safe from danger. And whether they do not see him there in the grass, or whether they fear to halt even a moment, but they do not wake him, they let him be.”
Kumalo’s statement foreshadows tomorrow’s violence.” (Marcus) Just four years after everyone was allowed to run for president, Nelson Mandela, a black man, was elected in 1998. Mandela was the first president that was not white and tension wasn’t quite as high as expected when this happened.
The four black leaders fall into four categories. One is corrupt; one provokes pointless violence, one who is incompetent, and one who is a devout Christian. (Hogan) There is Stephen Kumalo, a pastor trying to take care of his family, John Kumalo, a politician who has completely turned his back on God, a tribal leader that was never named, and Msimangu, a religious leader that is known for peace and the words he says. Stephen was a good man, but he was awfully simple. (Hogan) John stood for a more revolutionary philosophy than any of the other black characters in the novel and was corrupt and deceitful, up to the point where he betrayed his brother and nephew as soon as the opportunity appeared. (Hogan) John was later portray as shrewd, self-seeking, and a self-aggrandizing man who sought after power but did not have any courage. (Marcus) The tribal chief was an ignorant man who tried to take over the land without knowledge or understand of what was happening and refused to talk to the white people about it. (Hogan) Msimangu was quoted saying that he cannot ‘hate a white man’ because ‘It was a white man who brought my father out of darkness.'(Paton 25) Msimangu also said that ‘there is only one thing that has power completely, and that is love. Because when a man loves, he seeks on power, and therefore he has power.'” (Watson) Msimangu is torn between a hypothetical position renouncing the separate living and the emotional toll of real inequalities with sudden impact. (Marcus)
There are also four kinds of white guys in the novel. There are the men who help the blacks boycott the buses, some that worked to help the blacks, the government officials who try to deter the blacks from speaking, and there are the priests, who are in a difficult spot when it comes to politics. “The young Jarvis is writing an essay on white fear of black urban crime when he’s killed, which illuminates the dilemma faced by the white power-holders” (Armstrong) “We discover that he’s not a hate-filled racist” (Armstrong) “Fascists, slaveholders, colonialists, patriarchs all seek to justify their domination by reference to deep and abiding difference that radically separate people on the basis of skin color, sex, national, or class origin, etc., and that effectively dehumanize members of the oppressed group.” (Hogan) The white man that offered a ride to Msimangu and Stephen was told by a police officer not to partake in such an act, however the white man quickly replied that the police would have to throw him in jail to keep him from giving the men rides. Msimangu quickly told Stephen that such “things are not done lightly.” (Paton 42)
The viewpoint of racism and segregation is different from character to character. Although Stephen and John are brothers, there view of the white man is very different. Even though Msimangu is a priest, his understanding is different from that of the common priests. Then there is Jarvis, the father of the man who was murdered by a black man, Stephen’s son, who changes how he looks and interprets racism by reading his sons books and journals. Msimangu, even though he resented segregation, he said “I am not a man for segregation, but it is a pity that we are not apart.” (Marcus) Many Afrikaner nationalists disbelieved the picture of South Africa presented in the premiere of the movie. The wife of Prime Minister D. f. Malan questioned him saying, “Surely, Mr. Paton, you don’t really think things are like that?” (Critical) The whites lived in constant fear of the large number of blacks present and the blacks feared the power of the entrenched minority. (Marcus)
At the end, Jarvis helps Stephen even though these things are not done easily. Jarvis’ grandson realizes the tragedies the blacks are facing, and, like his dad, decides to help them in any way possible which includes taking them milk and asking his grandfather to send an agriculture teacher to help them with the land. The cooperation formed by this unlikely pair helps save the valley. Although Stephen’s son was the one who killed Jarvis’ son, they still somehow manage to understand what the other one is going through. This is especially true when they cross all boundaries of race and ethnicity to comfort one another in the death of both of their sons.
On the ending note, Nelson Mandela is currently the president of South Africa and the element of racism has lessened in degree in comparison to what it was at the time of the Paton’s childhood, the time period of the book, and the few years after the book was published. Paton presented a novel that revolutionized South Africa as well as the world, yet he did not live long enough to see the ending result of his work and others. “Following the establishment of all-race elections in South Africa just four years ago, Nelson Mandela was elected president and help put an end to apartheid.” (Armstrong)
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“Critical Reception.” Cry, the Beloved Country: A Novel of South Africa. Edward Callan. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1998. 14-25. Twayne’s Masterwork Studies 69. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 21 Mar. 2013
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Hogan, Patrick Colm. “Paternalism, Ideology, and Ideological Critique: Teach Cry, the Beloved Country.” College Literature 19-20.3-1 (Oct. 1992): 206-210. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Thomas J. Schoenberg and Lawrence J. Trudeau. Vol. 165. Detroit: Gale, 2005. Literature Resource Center. Web. 19 Mar. 2013.
Marcus, Fred H. “Cry, the Beloved Country and Strange Fruit: Exploring Man’s Inhumanity to Man.” The English Journal 51.9 (Dec. 1962): 609-616. Rpt. in Novels for Students. Ed. Diance Telgen and Kevin Hile. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale, 1998. Literature Resource Center. Web. 21 Mar. 2013.
Paton, Alan. Cry, the Beloved Country. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1948. Print.
Watson, Stephen. “Cry, the Beloved Country and the Failure of Liberal Vision.” English in Africa 9.1 (May 1982): 29-44. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Thomas J. Schoenberg and Lawrence J. Trudeau. Vol. 162. Detroit: Gale, 2005. Literature Resource Center. Web. 19 Mar. 2013.