Alan Paton Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

ph_0111201617-Paton.jpg Alan Paton Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Before his first two novels, Alan Paton (PAYT-uhn) wrote only juvenile poems and a play, while at college. A collection of his short stories, Tales from a Troubled Land, published in 1961, was republished that same year as Debbie Go Home. In 1964, he produced a play, Sponono, with Krishna Shah. His major work of biography is Hofmeyr (1964), better known in its abridged American version, South African Tragedy: The Life and Times of Jan Hofmeyr (1965). Paton’s autobiographies are titled Towards the Mountain (1980) and Journey Continued (1988).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Alan Paton burst upon the international literary scene with his novel Cry, the Beloved Country. Seldom has a first work had such immediate and yet such long-lasting impact. This first novel, published when its author was already forty-five years of age, sold fifteen million copies by the time of Paton’s death in 1988, forty years later. The persistence of the book’s popularity can also be seen in its having been made into films in 1951 and 1995. In addition to popular acclaim, Paton has been awarded considerable critical respect, receiving both British and American awards within a year of the publication of Cry, the Beloved Country.

His accomplishments as an author are impressively paradoxical. Paton’s novels are set concretely in the landscape of South Africa, based specifically on the social conditions of that country, incorporating actual political events into their plots; however, from those localized elements emerges not the narrow regionalism that might be expected but rather cosmic concern with shared humanity. Deeply concerned with issues of political justice, Paton seldom degenerates into preaching or sentimentality. Carefully crafted as his lyrical style is, it is mostly admired not for its aesthetic competence but rather for its simplicity and naturalness.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

How did Alan Paton’s early career prepare him for the novels he wrote?

What aspects of Paton’s literary style have impressed critics most?

Demonstrate the influence of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939) on Paton.

Examine the wisdom of fathers in Cry, the Beloved Country.

Cite “small acts of kindness” that make a difference in Paton’s novels.

What events since Paton’s death have substantiated the hope that he felt for his native land?


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Alexander, Peter F. Alan Paton: A Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. A thorough, vast study of Paton’s life, this volume is as engagingly written as it is well documented. Background on the major novels is particularly helpful.

Baker, Sheridan. Paton’s “Cry, the Beloved Country”: The Novel, the Critics, the Setting. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1968. This useful collection of criticism of the novel includes Baker’s own classic, “Paton’s Beloved Country and the Morality of Geography.”

Callan, Edward. Alan Paton. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1982. Callan sets critical assessment of Paton’s writings within a general background of his life.

Callan, Edward. “Cry, the Beloved Country”: A Novel of South Africa—A Study. Boston: Twayne, 1991. Part of Twayne’s Masterwork Studies, this volume discusses race relations, apartheid, and South African culture in relation to Paton’s seminal work.

Foley, Andrew. “‘Considered as a Social Record’: A Reassessment of Cry, the Beloved Country.” English in Africa 25, no. 2 (1998): 63-93. Assesses the long-term value of Paton’s most famous novel as well as Paton’s thought as a social critic.

Iannone, Carol. “Alan Paton’s Tragic Liberalism.” American Scholar 66, no. 3 (1997): 442-452. Emphasizes the complexity of Paton’s liberalism, which refuses to take the easy way out in addressing social issues.

Paton, Jonathan. “Comfort in Desolation.” In International Literature in English: Essays on the Major Writers, edited by Robert L. Ross. New York: Garland, 1991. Paton’s youngest son describes the Christian call for comfort that underlies his father’s first novel.