How do the characters Msimangu, John Kumalo, and Arthur Jarvis represent different segments of South African society?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Cry the Beloved Country , written in 1948, is about the changes in South Africa after Black South African tribes were largely broken up and many people moved to the cities. The characters represent different segments of this changing society. John Kumalo has left his rural community to live in...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Cry the Beloved Country, written in 1948, is about the changes in South Africa after Black South African tribes were largely broken up and many people moved to the cities. The characters represent different segments of this changing society. John Kumalo has left his rural community to live in Johannesburg, and while he was once a Christian and a carpenter (very similar to Christ), he has now become a businessman and a politician. Msimangu says of John Kumalo, "He says that what God has not done for South Africa, he must do" (page 15). While John Kumalo says he has left the church to actively help his people, he truly only wants to make a name for himself. He does not like the church because he feels beholden to too many rules. He represents the kind of politician who claims to want to help Black South Africans but who is really only interested in helping himself. For example, he hires a lawyer to make the case that his son was not near Absalom when Arthur Jarvis is killed, and he does everything to protect himself and his family and make himself seem important. He is not committed to reform or to making life in South Africa truly better.

Arthur Jarvis is a cultured, educated white man who, unlike John Kumalo, truly loves South Africa. When he dies, the priest describes his death as "a terrible loss for South Africa" (page 39). Arthur Jarvis was President of the African Boys' Club and cared deeply about the lives of Black South Africans and about racial justice. His quest for justice comes in part from his extensive reading about South African history and in part from his Christian faith. He is representative of the white South African who wants to find a way to repair the racial rifts in his society and to move towards justice and equality.

The Reverend Theophilus Msimangu is filled with Christian charity. He tells Stephen Kumalo, "I am a Christian. It is not in my heart to hate the white man" (page 15). He is a Christian and believes in the Christian faith, but he also believes the white man has broken the tribal way of life in South Africa but has not repaired what he has broken. He has dedicated himself to repairing South Africa through the union of white and black people, and his motivating force is love. He represents the type of Black South African who is dedicated to social reform and to helping the country through the cooperation of all segments of the society and all races. He is similar to Arthur Jarvis in his dedication to reform.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team