Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Johannesburg. South Africa’s biggest and most advanced city and center of the country’s prosperous gold mining industry. During the period in which the novel is set, Johannesburg, like the rest of South Africa, is governed by increasingly rigid racially discriminatory laws and customs, all of which favor the country’s white minority. Nevertheless, black Africans flock to the city and its mines from impoverished rural areas to find wage employment and other opportunity. However, even in the great city, jobs are hard to find.
The novel focuses on the quest of Stephen Kumalo, an educated Zulu man ordained as an Anglican priest, to find his son in Johannesburg. After he reaches the city, he discovers his sister working as a prostitute and selling bootleg liquor, and his brother, who has become a corrupt political activist. Meanwhile, he observes the downtrodden condition of the city’s African residents and the extreme racial inequalities in economic and political conditions. He yearns to be back in his own village, back to the innocence and the simple way of life.
Paton uses the modern city to accentuate Kumalo’s naïve expectations of city life. As Kumalo explores Johannesburg, he sees the worst of humanity: extreme poverty, prostitution, crime, filth, destitution, and deprivation. The city is the worst place he can imagine. However, even within this great center of racism and distrust, he encounters kindness and humanity—mostly from fellow African and white clergymen, who comfort and support him when his religious faith and optimism begin to leave him. Through their small kindness, Paton redeems the city....
(The entire section is 684 words.)
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Alexander, Peter F. Alan Paton: A Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. A particularly engaging, well-documented, enormous biography. Provides important background information on the genesis of the novel in chapters 12 and 13.
Brutus, Dennis. “Protest Against Apartheid.” In Protest and Conflict in African Literature, edited by Cosmo Pieterse and Donald Munro. New York: Africana, 1969. A notable and substantive critique of Cry, the Beloved Country from a black South African perspective. Argues that the novel’s simple, direct protest against apartheid is not forceful enough against the monstrosity of...
(The entire section is 235 words.)