Apartheid in Human Terms
Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1919
Cry, the Beloved Country made a tremendous impact on the international community when it was first published in 1947 by showing, in human terms, the effects of apartheid on its victims. "Apartheid" means "apartness" in Afrikaans, the language spoken by the white descendants of Dutch people who settled in the region now known as South Africa. Once known as Boers, these Afrikaaners instituted a system of rigid segregation between the black tribal people and the white settlers. White supremacy allowed the Afrikaaners and white people of other nationalities to become wealthy on the natural resources in South Africa, using tribal people for cheap labor.
The evil consequences of the apartheid system in South Africa were widely understood as political phenomena in 1947. Yet Alan Paton evoked the dilemma of tribal people so movingly that no one who read his novel could fail to understand from an emotional point of view the terrible injustices built into the legal system—a system which held sway in South Africa until 1990. Though Cry, the Beloved Country stands alone as a compelling plot with memorable characters, it is a book which needs to be placed in historical context to achieve its full impact.
Alan Paton (1903-1983) was a white man of English descent, raised in Natal, a region of South Africa which is the "beloved country" of the title. South Africa as a whole can also be understood to be the "beloved country" for which its natives, both white and black, must "cry," or weep for in sorrow and guilt. Paton understood that racial injustice, in which the blacks, who made up seventy percent of the country's population, worked to enrich the white Afrikaaners. It was a crime which led all South Africans, and especially the black natives, to disastrous consequences.
South Africa's history is the history of European colonialism in Africa. The Dutch East India Company came to the region in 1652 and began to displace the Bantu-speaking black Africans who lived there. Dutch farmers (Boers) who came from the Netherlands to settle the South African interior engaged in a long series of wars with the Xhosa people. But they were displaced in turn when the British took over the region in 1814. The Boers then settled even farther inland in Natal, the Orange Free State, and the Transvaal. When diamonds and gold were discovered in these regions in the 1860s and 1880s, making them more attractive for business than for farming, the British attempted to take over the regions. This prompted the Boer War (1899-1902). The British won the war and established the Union of South Africa in 1910. South Africa gained its independence from Britain in 1931. When the Boers, now called Afrikaaners, assumed power from England, they imposed the most strict apartheid laws, isolating the black natives in "homelands" which deprived them of their civil rights, as well as their ability to achieve economic and social stability.
When Paton wrote Cry, the Beloved Country, it was not clear how South Africa would solve the increasing injustices between its black and white inhabitants. Paton achieved two purposes in his novel. He depicted these injustices by showing how white commercialism dismantled the tribal customs which had given the black natives their stability, and he proposed an alternative to apartheid that was moral and religious rather than political. Through the reconciliation of his black protagonist, Stephen Kumalo, with the white land owner, James Jarvis, Paton proposes that natural charity and justice will emerge when members of both races see each other as fully human.
Paton did not merely write novels to propose solutions. He became actively involved in implementing his vision by helping to found the Liberal Party in South Africa in 1953. With the worldwide prestige, income, and authority he gained from the success of Cry, the Beloved Country, Paton was able to join with others to fight the increasingly harsh laws that limited Bantu education, access to jobs, freedom of movement, and property rights. At the same time, however, the African National Congress (ANC), originally formed in 1912, initiated the mass movements against the white regime that led eventually to armed conflict and guerrilla warfare. For forty years the ANC led the fight for black rights, resulting in the National Conference in 1991 at which Nelson Mandela was elected president. Mandela became the leader of the Government of National Unity in South Africa, which seeks to exercise justice for all races. Though Paton's hope for nonviolent change for his "beloved country" died with the failure of the Liberal Party, he is still credited with bringing powerful force to early efforts to organize reform.
Reading Cry, the Beloved Country is like reading a certain type of poetry, in that every word has significance and beauty. It is not a novel to be skimmed or read rapidly, even though it is fairly short. It is a book to be savored for its truthfulness, its carefulness, and its importance.
Cry, the Beloved Country is truly unique because it does not follow in a literary tradition, nor does it launch a tradition. Later South African authors who have gained the world stage, such as Nadine Gordimer Athol Fugard and Andre Brink, have been writing in an environment of open hostility between blacks and whites after the militarization of the African National Congress. Since Cry, the Beloved Country predates this period, it stands alone as an appeal for peaceful reconciliation between the races—a stance which the later authors could not realistically take. It also stands alone as a work about suffering and love that is timeless in its relevance to the human condition. Fifty years after its publication, when many of the worst offenses addressed in Cry, the Beloved Country are being solved by the Government of National Unity in South Africa, it is still a work to be read and cherished by new generations.
It is significant that in the novel the symbol of a hopeful future is situated in a white child. Though Paton appropriates the voice of a black minister, Stephen Kumalo, to tell most of his story, Paton himself is white. His lifetime of living among the Zulu gave him the authority to adopt Kumalo's voice accurately in terms of its particular sound and expression. In 1947, before the multicultural movement in literary theory, such an appropriation of voice would not be questioned, especially when it is done as well as Paton does it. Today, however, the critical reader must always be aware that the black voice is subject to the agenda of the white author.
For instance, one can speculate that the mind of the white man intrudes into his black characters at certain points when the black characters notice the generosity of white drivers during the bus strike, when they accept the decisions of white authority figures like Father Vincent without question, and when they seek for reconciliation with white characters such as James Jarvis. When compared to black African authors such as Chinua Achebe the reader can see that Paton wishes to highlight those attributes upon which racial reconciliation can be built rather than simply to paint the terrible destructiveness of racial injustice. Thus, Paton's symbol for the next generation, the white child who reflects his father's respect for the Zulu, is a distinctly white perception of peace. One can speculate that a black writer on the same subject would see the hope of South Africa in a black child, one who might grow up in a country in which Africans had reclaimed their land from white intruders, and who might turn to tribal belief systems for their values rather than the transplanted Christian values which predominate in Paton's novel. There is no sense of irony in Paton's narration, for instance, that the broken tribes are broken, in part, by the imposition of a non-native religion.
The greatest theme of Cry, the Beloved Country is the Christian reconciliation of the races in the face of almost unforgivable sin. How can the black natives ever forgive white people for stealing their country and its resources while destroying their culture? On the other hand, how can white people ever come to face the enormity of their crimes, especially when the initial crimes were not committed by those who are living now? How can white South Africans not regard the land as their own when they and their ancestors have lived on it since 1652? Before a peaceful solution can be found, a race war might break out. As the character Msimangu says about the white people, "I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving they will find that we are turned to hating."
This theme is expressed in three subthemes that can be described as "memory," "breaking the tribes," and "secrets." It is the memory of Ixopo that gives Kumalo strength while he is in the alien and evil city, because the hills and valleys of the "beloved country" represent the order and stability of the tribe. Likewise, it is the memory of his son Arthur that compels James Jarvis to overcome his prejudice and loathing in order to achieve understanding of his radical racial views and to carry on his son's work for racial justice.
The breaking of the tribes is a disaster brought on by several forces, including the relentless drought that forced agricultural people into the cities, as well as the exploitation of those people by the white mine owners. In Book I the reader can see the devastation in every character which is brought about by the breakdown of tribal customs. In Book II it is clear that the white "tribe" has thrived on the destruction of the black tribes, who have provided the white people with their maids, laborers, and mine workers. Paton suggests that a new tribe must rise out of this cycle of destruction and exploitation: a tribe based upon mutual respect between black and white. How this respect is to develop is a "secret"—one of the mysteries of life that will only be clear when it manifests itself in leaps of faith and acts of generosity.
As Kumalo tries to come to terms with the execution of his son for the murder of Jarvis' son— a crime which the reader understands to be the product of the breaking of the tribe—he turns away from what appear to be irreconcilable mysteries: the persistence of happiness under such conditions and the resilience of people who have suffered beyond endurance. When he fears he will lose his faith, Father Vincent tells him not to dwell on injustice: "And do not pray for yourself, and do not pray to understand the ways of God. For they are secret. Who knows what life is, for life is a secret." This theme is taken up at the end of the book, which ends on this note: "But when that dawn will come, of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why, that is a secret." Though it is a mystery why some people dominate and sin against others, it is also a mystery why there is forgiveness, reconciliation, and reform. Paton tries to show the progress of such sin and forgiveness in the Jarvis and Kumalo families as a model for the entire nation. Because the characters are so fully realized, their stories become models of suffering and reconciliation for all times and places.
Source: Sharon Cumberland, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale, 1998. Cumberland is an assistant professor at Seattle University.
Of Faith and Fear: Cry, the Beloved Country
Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2355
It would be difficult to imagine a landscape or a point on the earth's surface so different in every way from South Africa as Trondheim, Norway. Yet it may have been fortunate for the artist in Alan Paton that Trondheim was the place where he undertook to compose Cry, the Beloved Country. This was not because of any direct influence other than that of loneliness and longing for home. True, he had read John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath in Stockholm, and his sidetrip to Norway was prompted by a wish to visit the countryside depicted in Knut Hamsun's grimly realistic novel Growth of the Soil, but he says [in Towards the Mountain (1980)] he did not consciously adapt anything from either work except Steinbeck's "style of rendering conversations, indicating by a preliminary dash that a speech was about to begin, and omitting all inverted commas." What may have mattered more was that distance permitted a perspective that allowed him to see his own country and the struggles of its diverse peoples as a whole. It is essentially this overall point of view that makes Cry, the Beloved Country a unique artistic object: a dramatic manifestation of the agony of a country in which the spirit of South Africa hovers always on stage and dominates the human actors like the ever-present, threatening and life-giving force of the sea in J. M. Synge's play Riders to the Sea.
Many readers of Cry, the Beloved Country are struck by the simplicity of its language and the rhythmic quality of its prose style. Some of its rhythms—dependent on parallel phrases and repetitions—evoke translations of the Psalms. Because of this, the style of Cry, the Beloved Country has frequently been described as "biblical." This description is only partly accurate because it implies that Paton's is a naturally rhythmic style, and that the whole novel is written in one style.
But the novel has a wide variety of styles. The element that may strike readers first as having a flavor of originality is the evocation of the rhythms of Zulu speech that appears, chiefly, in Stephen Kumalo's speech and thought, and in dialogue among African characters. For an obvious contrast, however, one should look at the style of the elder Harrison in Book Two. Harrison is almost a caricature of the typical colonialist-minded United Party man from Johannesburg's English-speaking commercial community, hidebound by prejudice. He parrots hackneyed ideas about "the native problem." He speaks almost wholly in cliches, and is quite incapable of examining them from a fresh viewpoint. He is like the "stone age" neighbor in Robert Frost's "Mending Wall," who cannot go behind his father's saying: "Good fences make good neighbors."
For a stylistic counterpoint to Harrison's conventional commonplaces, one should turn to the documents left behind by the murdered man, Arthur Jarvis. Anyone familiar with the writings of Alfred Hoernle—whose spirit frequently walks abroad in the novel—would probably recognize in their trenchant arguments, not only echoes of the ideas, but of the personal "synoptic" style that Hoernle sought to develop. One could pursue these instances of characterization through style further: to the speech of James Jarvis, for instance, or of the village schoolmaster in Ndotsheni, and find that Paton's ear seems extraordinarily well tuned to the varied rhythms of speech, and also that he employs .differences in speech patterns to give individuality to his characters, and to the cacophonous voices that clamor in his choruses.
Even though Cry, the Beloved Country is not written in one style and rhythm but in many styles and rhythms, there is, nonetheless, a dominant style associated with the book. This is the pattern of speech with a marked poetic quality accorded to Kumalo and the African characters generally, and also to some extent employed in the lyric passages voiced from outside the action. This quality, depending to a degree on the sound and syntax of spoken Zulu, can be viewed as a poetic invention designed to carry over into English the effects of the sound and idiom of African speech....
The plot of Cry, the Beloved Country combines three related quests corresponding largely to Book One, Book Two, and Book Three of the work itself. Book One, the Book of Kumalo, is concerned at first with the physical quest of the Reverend Stephen Kumalo, who travels from the African village of Ndotsheni to Johannesburg in search of his sister Gertrude, his son Absalom, and his brother John, who have all "disappeared" in the metropolis. His guide to these regions of lost people is another Anglican priest, a fellow Zulu of wholly different background, the Reverend Theophilus Msimangu. Msimangu, as has been pointed out, is a man with a deep philosophic bent and clear logical mind whose secular hero was the sharp-witted philosopher Alfred Hoernle. He guides Kumalo down among the lost people as Virgil guided Dante through the infernal regions, opening his eyes and his understanding to the meaning of enigmatic things. They find Stephen's sister Gertrude, his brother John, and, finally, his son Absalom, only to discover that he is the confessed murderer of Arthur Jarvis.
Book Two is the Book of James Jarvis, father of the murdered man. He sets out from the closed mental world of his own habitual assumptions and prejudices and seeks to understand the liberal spirit revealed to him in his son's reputation and writings. Again, on the analogy of Virgil led by Dante, James Jarvis, "seeking his way out of the fog into which he has been born," is guided by the voice of his dead son who had "journeyed ... into strange waters" and set down his philosophy in "A Private Essay on the Evolution of a South African."
Book Three is the Book of Restoration. In it, the physical and psychological quests of the earlier books turn toward the spiritual path of redemption. This is the region where, after guiding him through the horrors of hell and the mount of purgatory, Virgil left Dante to proceed alone with no guide but love.
In Book One, Stephen Kumalo journeys to Johannesburg and experiences manifestations of good and evil in this strange new industrial world. He is robbed, and he is treated with kindness; he visits places of despair like Claremont where he finds his sister Gertrude, and places of hope like Ezenzeleni where the blind are rehabilitated; he witnesses his brother John's self-seeking corruption and Msimangu's selfless dedication; he becomes aware, too, of conflicting good and evil impulses within himself. He is a good man seeking lost sheep, yet he lies to his fellow-passengers on the train to protect his self-esteem; and he is cruel to the nameless girl who is to bear Absalom's child, as he is later cruel to his brother John whose cunning has saved his own son at Absalom's expense.
In Book Two the reader observes James Jarvis's deep experience as he returns again and again to the writings on social justice left by his murdered son. These papers argue the case for racial conciliation in South Africa from the Christian and liberal standpoint that Paton shared with Jan Hofmeyr. They open James Jarvis's eyes for the first time to the real plight of both rural and urban Africans—the destruction of their tribal social organization without provision for its replacement by something better: "It was permissible to allow the destruction of a tribal system that impeded the growth of the country.... But it is not permissible to watch its destruction, and to replace it by nothing, or by so little, that a whole people degenerates, physically and morally." They also open his eyes to the need for restitution and restoration: "Our civilization has therefore an inescapable duty to set up another system of order and tradition and convention...."
The writings of his son's hero Abraham Lincoln guide James Jarvis in deciding the form the memorial to his dead son should take, for he returns more than once to the Gettysburg Address, in which he encounters: "It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us— that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain...."
James Jarvis realizes that his son had journeyed into deep waters, but he also realizes that he must honor and carry forward his son's work as far as it is possible for him to do so. He is not equipped to do his son's work, but he does "the next best thing." He therefore gives practical financial help to the African Boys' Club and to the drought-stricken village of Ndotsheni. And he learns to respect the sufferings of the old man whose son had murdered his son.
The theme of restoration pervades Book Three on several levels. There is a beginning made on the restoration of the land through the work of a young agricultural demonstrator; there is the restoration of Kumalo's leaky village church through the generosity of James Jarvis; and this, in turn, is a halting step towards the restoration of brotherhood— one human being reaching out toward another across the barriers of fear and prejudice. The climax of the theme of spiritual restoration is reached when Kumalo, who in Book One neared despair, makes his lone pilgrimage to the mountaintop to share his son's agony on the morning set for his execution.
Book Three, seeking to evoke a Christian sensibility, may be open to the dual danger of uncritical applause from those who share Paton's faith, and to charges of sentimentality from those who do not. Yet Paton does not permit the reader either to applaud Jarvis's "conversion" or to smile tolerantly on it as a matter beyond the limits of practical sociological concern. At this very point in the novel he quite deliberately raises the question: "What courses of action are the concern of a practical man, and what courses of action are impractical." His answer ironically contrasts two ways of undertaking the relief of present suffering.
One way is to hope for an ideal, Utopian solution through the intervention of some agent of authority or impersonal force, such as the state, equipped with blueprints and long-range theories. Another way is, meanwhile, to do "the next best thing" and take those practical steps, however small, that lie within reach. The "good" characters in the novel do not accept evils passively. They act, not only for "humanitarian" reasons, but because as human beings they are involved in mankind, and are in a real sense their brothers' keepers. It is, indeed, a simple personal action—an assumption of the responsibility of priestly brotherhood that opens up the whole Pandora's box: namely, Msimangu's letter to Kumalo informing him of his sister Gertrude's "sickness." Kumalo learns in Johannesburg that he, too, bears a measure of personal responsibility for alleviating suffering; and must act like Msimangu, and the people at Ezenzeleni and the reformatory, and like Dubula who set up Shanty Town. He decides on the unprecedented, if unrewarding, step of seeking an interview with the chief to propose some practical steps to alleviate the suffering caused in Ndotsheni by the drought. And he does this because "the great city had opened his eyes to something that had been begun and must now be continued."
Next he seeks out the headmaster of the local school, where, as the chief reminded him, "we have been teaching these things for many years." There is a fine irony in Paton's portrait of the headmaster that satirizes the impracticality of theoretical schemes. Paton even employs a singsong rhythm— like those who parrot, by rote, things uncomprehended—that mocks the headmaster: "his office was filled with notices in blue and red and green." When Kumalo sought his advice about practical measures, he was answered in theoretical educational jargon pitifully far removed from reality: "The headmaster explained that the school was trying to relate the life of the child to the life of the community, and showed him circulars from the Department in Pietermaritzburg, all about these matters. He took Kumalo out into the blazing sun, and showed him the school gardens, but this was an academic lecture, for there was no water, and everything was dead." It is against this background of futile, high-sounding schemes and theories that Jarvis's simple, practical act of providing milk for the sick children is set with purposeful, yet profound, irony. For it was not only because of the drought that "there was no water, and everything was dead"; but, symbolically, because the schemes and theories themselves were arid. It is only when Jarvis and Kumalo meet humbly as two human beings, each aware of the weight of the other's suffering, and therefore of their common humanity, that the drought breaks and the rain comes at last to the valley of Ndotsheni.
Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country offers no blueprint for a Utopian society. It offers instead recognition of personal responsibility. The crucial development in the characters of both Jarvis and Kumalo is that each comes to recognize how individual fear or indifference infects society with moral paralysis; and that the antidote for this paralysis is individual courage willing to go forward in faith. They do not wait, therefore, for some miraculous healing of this paralysis to be brought about by the direct intervention of God, or through the implementation of some scheme for a final solution, or through the flowering of the promises of some manifesto. They act by taking whatever steps are possible to them as individuals in the immediate present. A road taken in faith has no certainty of arrival; if it did, faith would be unnecessary. Cry, the Beloved Country, therefore, rightly concludes with an acceptance of uncertainty: "But when the dawn will come of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why, that is a secret."
Source: Edward Callan, "Of Faith and Fear: Cry, the Beloved Country," in his Alan Paton, revised edition, G.K. Hall & Company, 1982, pp. 32-41.
Cry, the Beloved Country and Strange Fruit: Exploring Man's Inhumanity to Man
Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2064
[Cry, the Beloved Country] emerges out of the racial problems in South Africa. We must assess it—not for its sociological content, nor outside its sociological content—as a work of art attempting to recreate experience in a world ordered by the writer. [In his introduction to Cry, the Beloved Country, Scribner's, 1948] Lewis Gannett credits the novel with being "... unashamedly innocent and subtly sophisticated. It is a story; it is a prophecy; it is a psalm." His observations merit comment. The words prophecy and psalm imply a Biblical quality. Even a relatively unsophisticated reader will sense the Biblical roll of the language, the Old Testament-sounding place names, and the technique of sonorous repetition, in which the plaintive cry of humanity merges with a paean of hope for a brighter tomorrow. The opening sentence of Book I—a sentence repeated in the opening of Book II— combines simplicity and directness with a rhythmic pulse. "There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills." The breaks after road and Ixopo are natural and inevitable—establishing a simple chant through intonation. If this is the beginning of a love song, a drumming yet tender cadence of geographical loveliness, the tenderness applies even to the unpleasant. The grass which is not kept, or guarded, or cared for—in the valleys where the natives live—"... no longer keeps men, guards men, cares for men. The titihoya does not cry here any more." For Alan Paton the love song remains tender, but more and more forlorn. "The great red hills stand desolate, and the earth has turned away like flesh.... the dead streams come to life, full of the red blood of the earth." This is a poetry of compassion filled with wailing, notes of desolation and sadness. The short first chapter closes, "They are valleys of old men and old women, of mothers and children. The men are away, the young men and the girls are away. The soil cannot keep them any more." The psalm embedded in the novel yearns forth, "Cry for the broken tribe.... Cry, the Beloved Country.... The sun pours down on the earth, on the lovely land that man cannot enjoy. He knows only the fear of his heart."...
While the details of Alan Paton's novel encourage the flaring up of anger at man's inhumanity to man, the prevalent tone is hopeful. Africans are exploited, mistreated, harried unmercifully; the whites are responsible for unfair land distribution, slum growth, unjust laws, and the disintegration of native tribal structure. Against this background of provocation, Msimangu, a black priest, speaks the most significant words of the novel: "I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they turn to loving they will find we are turned to hating." In the baleful light of reality these words are incredible. Yet, like Steinbeck before him—whose novel, The Grapes of Wrath, spurred the writing of Cry, the Beloved Country—Paton portrays people as a wonderful mixture of toughness and tenderness, men and women who love and lose their land but are revitalized by man's unquenchable humanity.
Nor can Alan Paton be dismissed as a sentimentalist. If the attitudes above sound "unashamedly innocent," that is because Christian doctrine about loving one's neighbor is rarely consistent with practice. Cry, the Beloved Country confronts the paradox of love and fear coexisting in South Africa. It confronts the inevitable complexity of human beings torn by conflicting principles. For example, Msimangu, who fears the turning of love to hate, preaches with a voice of gold.
Yet he is despised by some.... They say he preaches of a world not made by hands, while in the streets about him men struggle and suffer and die. They ask what folly it is that can so seize upon a man, what folly it is that so seizes upon so many of their people, making the hungry patient, the suffering content, the dying at peace? And how fools listen to him, silent, enrapt, sighing when he is done, feeding their empty bellies on his empty words.
And from Paton's point of view this picture of Msimangu has some validity. Contrasting with Msimangu in the novel is John Kumalo, a carpenter, owner of his own shop, a resident of the sinful city of Johannesburg. John stands for a more militant philosophy. He believes that "... what God has not done for South Africa, man must do." John understands the political and economic power structure; he recognizes the profit motive underlying the exploitation of native labor; he even recognizes the techniques of subjugation designed to keep the black man in his place. He says,
I do not say we are free here... at least I am free of the chief... an old and ignorant man, who is nothing but a white man's dog., the Church too is like the chief.... It is true that the Church speaks with a fine voice, and that the Bishops speak against the laws. But this they have been doing for fifty years, and things get worse, not better.
It would be impossible not to recognize the validity of much of John Kumalo's argument. Yet, Paton presents John Kumalo as "cunning," as a self-seeking, self-aggrandizing man who seeks power but lacks courage. His "great voice growls" in his "bull throat" and he symbolizes a potential native leader with the raw power to awaken his fellow Africans But the policemen who have heard his speeches stand relaxed. They know he can paint "... pictures of Africa awakening from sleep, of Africa resurgent, of Africa dark and savage.... But the man is afraid, and the deep thundering growl dies down...." Even Msimangu concedes that many of John Kumalo's statements are true. But he perceives the essential corruption of the man's bid for power. "Perhaps we should thank God he is corrupt," he adds; "... if he were not corrupt, he could plunge this country into bloodshed. He is corrupted by his possessions, and he fears their loss, and the loss of the power he already has." Paton's characterization recognizes the complexity of people. Msimangu—whom he approves—symbolizes a theology comfortable to Paton; John Kumalo— whom he disapproves—symbolizes a political and economic awareness attractive to Paton. Kumalo might plunge South Africa into revolt if he had the courage. Paton finds this possibility abhorrent; he hopes for evolutionary progress. Msimangu preaches golden words; yet as a spokesman for love and religion, he represents little immediate pragmatic hope. At the end of the novel he retires to a monastic order, thus forfeiting a share in the continuing struggle. Yet even this detail contains a paradox. He will join a white communal group— thus symbolically helping to unravel another strand of the color line between men.
Early in the novel Msimangu says, "I am not a man for segregation, but it is a pity that we are not apart." The statement calls for segregation despite the speaker's demurrer. Msimangu is torn between a theoretical position disavowing segregated living and the emotional impact of real injustices with immediate impact. In one specific scene white men come to the aid of Africans. During a native boycott of buses a white man offers Msimangu and Stephen Kumalo free transportation. Later, when another white man renders the same help to black men, a policeman attempts to interfere. The white man challenges him, "Take me to court." In each of these incidents Msimangu marvels at the existence of brotherly love in action—almost as though his ritual preaching were words without application in actual instances. His incredulity belies his idealism. Stephen Kumalo's response to this latter incident conforms to Paton's affection for the innocent. "Kumalo's face wore the smile, the strange smile not known in other countries, of a black man who sees one of his people helped in public by a white man, for such a thing is not lightly done." The force of conformity to maintain an unjust status quo recurs in the novel. The upsetting of such conformity also recurs—thus giving support to Paton's optimism, an optimism sometimes hard-pressed by blatant injustice.
One dramatic symbol in the novel helps to crystallize the South African quandary and laissez-faire solution. The language reads like a parable:
There is a man sleeping in the grass, said (Stephen) Kumalo. And over him is gathering the greatest storm of all his days.... People hurry home past him, to places safe from danger. And whether they do not see him there in the grass, or whether they fear to halt even a moment, but they do not wake him, they let him be.
Kumalo's statement foreshadows tomorrow's violence. The alternative to the unpleasant reality requires a love that casts out fear, a fear that flourishes among whites and blacks. The whites fear the overwhelming numbers of blacks in South Africa; the blacks fear the power of the entrenched minority. With great compassion, a compassion tinged with disillusion, Paton writes, "Who can enjoy the lovely land, who can enjoy the seventy years, and the sun that pours down on the earth, when there is fear in the heart? Who can walk quietly in the shadow of the jacarandas, when their beauty is grown to danger?" Sometimes, bitterness mutes Paton's optimism. For example, bitterness erupts in his description of foolish rationalizing.
We shall live from day to day, and put more locks on the doors, and get a fine fierce dog when the fine fierce bitch next door has pups... and the beauty of the trees by night, and the raptures of lovers under the stars, these things we shall forego. We shall forego the coming home drunken through the midnight streets, and the evening walk over the star-lit veld. We shall be careful, and knock this off our lives, and knock that off our lives and hedge ourselves about with safety and precaution. And our lives will shrink, but they shall be the lives of superior beings.
Paton's sarcasm draws perilously close to despair. He knows the rampant fear permeating South Africa and the foolishness it promotes; Cry, the Beloved Country confronts reality in detail after detail. Yet the transcending merit of the novel is its poetic rendering of experience. Paton welds incongruous elements effectively. He describes man's inhumanity to man in powerful, realistic descriptions tempered only by a vein of unsubdued tenderness. His realism is rooted in sociological and psychological insights communicated explicitly and through characterization. Secondly, he perceives love as a redeeming force; however, his faith is sometimes blunted by the realities of multiple injustices. Paton clings to a hope that good may come from evil. Out of the death of Arthur Jarvis, an indomitable force for social justice, murdered—ironically—by an African, good emerges. James Jarvis, hitherto uninterested in the problems of deterioration at Ndotsheni, catches a hint of his son's convictions. Thus, James plays a God-like role in the restoration of the small village, a role symbolizing man's capacity for change. More important, perhaps, his grandson, a "small boy with the brightness inside him," begins to learn the Zulu language and symbolizes a hope for better future relationships between black and white in South Africa.
The novel closes on an ambiguous note. Paton returns to geographical place names but invests them with obvious symbolic meaning.
Yes, it is the dawn that has come. The titihoya wakes from sleep, and goes about its work of forlorn crying. The sun tips with light the mountains of Ingeli and East Griqualand. The great valley of the Umzimkulu is still in darkness but the light will come there. Ndotsheni is still in darkness, but the light will come there also. For it is the dawn that has come, as it has come for a thousand centuries, never failing. But when that dawn will come, of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why that is a secret.
Paton's symbols affirm a dawn of hope. Only the "when" is clouded. Since African natives live in the valleys, not in the highlands, the rising sun must first dispel the mists of fear hanging over those valleys. But Paton's guiding symbol, the inevitable, never-failing oncoming of light, marks his faith in evolutionary progress—geographical and human.
Source: Fred H. Marcus, "Cry the Beloved Country and Strange Fruit: Exploring Man's Inhumanity to Man," in The English Journal, Vol. 51, No. 9, December, 1962, pp. 609-16.