Cry, the Beloved Country is a novel of social protest—a protest against apartheid, the policy of racial segregation that existed in South Africa. When the Reverend Stephen Kumalo travels from his home in Ndotsheni to the capital city of Johannesburg to find his missing family members, he encounters a disintegration of tribal customs and family life. Kumalo learns quickly that the whites, through the policy of apartheid, have disrupted African values and social order. He notes that city life leads to a demoralized lifestyle of poverty and crime for the natives. Even the Reverend Theophilus Msimangu, a priest who offers his assistance to Kumalo, believes that this disintegration of social values cannot be mended. Msimangu does, however, envision hope for “when white men and black men . . . desiring only the good of their country, come together to work for it.” The land, in this case, South Africa, is the center of this novel. As the land becomes divided and eroded, so, too, do the people who live on it. Because James Jarvis and Kumalo reach a shared responsibility for their actions and thoughts as they attempt to understand the loss of their sons, Alan Paton believes that the country of South Africa has hope for restoration of its values and order in its new generation, especially in the sons of Arthur Jarvis and Absalom Kumalo.
Cry, the Beloved Country is structured in three sections. To depict the land as the central focus of this novel, Paton opens chapter 1 with a poetic reverence for “the fairest valleys of Africa.” Here the connection between land and people becomes evident. Book 1 points to the erosion of the land as the people leave their native soil. This section focuses on the native soil of the blacks, Kumalo in particular. It is difficult to maintain the beauty and fertility of the land when the tribal natives head for the promises of the city. The land, then, stands desolate. This deterioration is further illustrated in the shantytowns dishearteningly discovered by Kumalo as he enters Johannesburg.
The opening lines are repeated in chapter 18, which begins book 2. The melodic description of the land is now in reference to the whites’ partition of South Africa, namely, James Jarvis. The land is not depleted, but well tended. The openness and vitality of the land offer a sheer contrast to the depiction contained in book 1. James Jarvis’s farm, the finest one of the countryside, “stands high above Ndotsheni.” Paton thus symbolically portrays the destructiveness and divisiveness of apartheid in the...
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