Paton, Alan (Vol. 10)
The emotional impact of Cry, the Beloved Country is achieved, first of all and most consistently, by Paton's stylistic understatement, by his use and reuse of a few simple, almost stilted, formal phrases. Is it heavy? Jarvis asks Stephen Kumalo when the latter haltingly and painfully reveals his identity as the father of the murderer of Jarvis' son. Kumalo's reply echoes and reechoes the adjective: It is very heavy, umnumzana. It is the heaviest thing of all my years … This thing that is the heaviest thing of all my years, is the heaviest thing of all your years also…. Similarly Mrs. Lithebe, whenever she is praised for her great generosity, repeatedly responds with a question that becomes something of a litany: Why else were we born?
In their stark simplicity, these and other phrases often suggest the biblical. Like the scripture readings … and the errant son's name (Absalom), they sometimes even echo the Bible directly…. Such phrases are so effective because their very understatement heightens the impact of what is clearly implied. They achieve yet greater power because they appear at climactic moments,… and they are repeated periodically. Thus their effect also resembles that of the incremental repetition of folk ballads.
Paton's selection of episodes and his narration and descriptions follow a similar stylistic manner. In these, too, understatement and repetition predominate,...
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Robert L. Berner
Knocking on the Door is a collection of short pieces written between 1923 and 1974 and hitherto unpublished or otherwise inaccessible. The chronological arrangement provides insight into the growth of Paton's moral vision, and the book is less valuable for the "creative" pieces, which are of minor importance in his canon, than for the articles and speeches, which are vital to an understanding of the tensions and contradictions which burden the life of South Africa and which provide much of the power of its best fiction. One piece, "Why I Write" (1974), is of great importance, not only as an expression of Paton's own artistic motives but as an expression of his sensitivity to the Afrikaners, who consider themselves Africans. It is a fact that anthologies or surveys of African literature almost never include works by white South Africans, who are apparently presumed to be European sojourners in a black continent. Paton provides a corrective: "When we talk of 'home' we mean the country in which [we] were born, which commands our affections, and excites our desire to write of what we know and understand." Paton knows that the real South African drama is in the souls of the whites, where fear must contend with love and justice; and a number of these pieces are designed to save that literary subject from those who seek simpler solutions in racial, political or economic theories.
Paton recognizes the conflict in himself between "the...
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