Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 684
*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.
Parkwold Ridge. Johannesburg home of Arthur Jarvis, a tireless activist for African rights who has been murdered by Kumalo’s son, Absalom, during a burglary attempt on the house. After Jarvis’s death, his father, James Jarvis, for the first time begins to understand his son’s dedication to African rights through his exploration of his son’s study, which is filled with books and his writings on the need for African reforms. Gradually, father gets to know his son better in death than he ever did in life. He learns that his son loved the land of South Africa itself. Although he fought almost alone in his cause and his principles, he was passionate about the sufferings and disenfranchisement of the majority of his country’s peoples. It is within his home that his life’s work on African reforms exists.
Ndotsheni (en-doh-TSHAY-nee). Arid and impoverished Zulu village in South Africa’s Natal Province in which Stephen Kumalo and his wife live in a simple home. Kumalo’s son, sister, and brother have all fled the village for the big city in search of better opportunities, and Kumalo, in turn, finally leaves the village to search for them. Only after seeing Johannesburg does he fully appreciate the simple and truthful ways of his home. The novel’s descriptions of Ndotsheni underscore the jarring differences of Johannesburg. Kumalo’s faith in humanity is restored after he returns home and sees the changes brought by James Jarvis’s material contributions to Ndotsheni’s welfare and agricultural development: daily milk supplies for children, a new dam, and other improvements.
High Place. Prosperous farm owned by James Jarvis, the father of Absalom’s murder victim. Although Jarvis’s farm is near Ndotsheni, Jarvis and Kumalo never cross each other’s path until they become aware of each other through their shared tragedy. Indeed, Jarvis has always isolated himself from the lives of his native African neighbors, and his interest in their welfare is minimal until after he meets Kumalo. The aptly named High Place is where James Jarvis isolates himself from Africans.
The time and energy Jarvis devotes to his farm also prevents him from understanding his son in his true light until after his son is dead. In honor of his son and moved by his growing understanding of the desperate economic problems of his African neighbors, Jarvis draws on the resources of his farm to make substantial contributions to the agricultural development of Ndotsheni.
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Post-World War II
Though World War II had been over for several years, the war was still in the minds of people all over the globe in 1948. The economies of nations directly involved in the war were still recovering and the United States Congress voted for the implementation of the 1947 Marshall Plan to help rebuild Europe. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union and the United States were beginning what Bernard Baruch, advisor to President Truman, called the "Cold War." The first action of this war began where World War II ended. Soviet forces blockaded access to Berlin on June 24, 1948. In a nonviolent act to ignore the blockade, the United States and Britain countered with a great airlift of 4,500 tons of food and necessities per day until the Soviets allowed normal transit to return on September 30, 1949. At home, this "cold war" fueled political suspicion by the formation of the "Un-American Activities Committee." This committee was formed to investigate anyone who had Communist affiliations. The most famous 1948 case before this committee involved Alger Hiss. The case is still controversial today though Hiss is dead and Moscow has said he was never a spy.
As the two superpowers began their arms race, the colonies of the British empire began to struggle for independence. India struggled free with the help of Mahatma Gandhi, who was once a resident and prisoner of South Africa. In 1948, Gandhi was assassinated by those resentful of his allowance of partition with Pakistan. Other newly independent nations included Burma and Israel.
Apartheid in South Africa
South Africa was formed in 1910 when the former British colonies of Natal and the Cape joined with the republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State. It was at this time that the descendants of early Dutch speaking settlers began to refer to themselves as Afrikaners, their dialect as Afrikaans, and their party as the Afrikaner Nationalists. Yet another force in South Africa in 1910 was the African population that outnumbered the whites, were still largely tribal in their political makeup, and lived in rural communities. However, a population shift was occurring that mirrored population shifts everywhere—away from the traditional rural community to the city. In South Africa, due to the dramatic expansions of mining and industry in general, that meant a shift to Johannesburg. This large city was built upon the mining fields where gold had been discovered in 1886.
The Afrikaner Nationalists ruled South Africa from 1924 until 1939. In that year, the liberal agenda of men like Jan H. Hofmeyr took over and people began to have hope that South Africa would be a more equitable and just society. World War II began and South Africa fought on the side of the Allies against the Germans. After the war there was an even greater influx of Africans into the cities and into Johannesburg. It is at the post-World War II moment that Alan Paton sets his novel Cry, the Beloved Country. As that novel showed, there were two sides to South Africa in 1945. On one side were the Africans struggling to carve out a living in shanty towns or in rural areas whose soil was depleted. White men like Arthur Jarvis were awakening to the problems that inequality had created and joined with other whites to do what was possible to improve the situation of the natives. On the other side, the influx of people and the increase in crime in the city created a degree of paranoia amongst the enfranchised citizens. Thus in the election year of 1948, after the death of Hofmeyr, the Afrikaner Nationalists were voted back to power because they promised to restore order.
In 1948, the Afrikaner Nationalists began a system of government called apartheid. This system was similar in many ways to Jim Crow discrimination policies in America against African Americans. However, one very important difference was that it was a national policy legally discriminating on the basis of race. Under this system native Africans lived in designated areas and were required to carry "passes" and identity papers on them at all tunes. The inability to provide an enquiring official with one's papers meant jail or fines. These passes said where the individual could go. Generally, the system of apartheid aimed to keep the nonwhite people living under South African rule a disciplined pool of workers. Thus they did not tolerate dissent or organization into labor unions or political parties. They did so by imprisoning men like Nelson Mandela and Steven Biko for crimes against the state. Recently, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, resumed his political place as head of the African National Congress, and was elected President of South Africa. In 1996, he signed a new constitution for the Republic of South Africa.
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Cry, the Beloved Country is set in the rural village of Ndotsheni, home of Stephen Kumalo, and in the city of Johannesburg. The contrast between village life and city life is among the novel's key themes. The time is the mid-twentieth century, probably the same time as when the novel was written, 1945 to 1948. Readers should remember that in 1948 the struggle against apartheidÂSouth Africa's policy of racial segregationÂwas not conducted as openly as it is today.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 910
Point of View
Paton tells his story as if from a dream. The opening, "There is," implies the story is happening right now, though it is not. The use of the present tense makes the story seem distant, yet possible. The story is a third person narrative. The narrator, however, is not omniscient (all-knowing)—only giving necessary information or as much as would be known in the situation. That is, readers do not ever know a great deal about any of the characters, only how they behave given the plot of the story. The words used to tell this story are reminiscent of Biblical language. The prose is simple and intermixed with religious intonations and references. This is due both to the main characters being Anglican clergymen but also because South Africa, as a Christian nation, might best understand itself represented in a parable fashion. Taking this into account adds even more significance to the comments of Arthur Jarvis as well as the overall complex self-reflection of the novel. The novel is aware of itself as novel— as a story being told far from Africa about the affairs of Africa. This distance is also important to the point of view; it may be third person but it is also written far away from the scenes that the author describes. Cry, the Beloved Country was popular, in fact, abroad before it was even known at home.
The diction of the novel is influenced by the Zulu and Xosa tongues—not surprisingly as the novel takes place amongst members of those peoples colonized by speakers of the English language. Curious phrases from those languages are rendered into English to sound beautiful yet medieval. For example, women who are mature are greeted as "mother"; at parting they say, "go well, stay well" or just "stay well." Today, this choice of prose style sounds old-fashioned. Then again, some critics of the 1940s remarked that Paton was a bit too old-fashioned and sentimental for their taste. Another example of native-influenced syntax is the way simple words are used and repeated: "This thing, he said. This thing. Here in my heart there is nothing but fear. Fear, fear, fear." Such adoption of local dialect is also symptomatic of the author's effort to capture emotion. To capture emotion in words effectively demands simplicity, repetition, and terse exchanges between characters. Thus, rather than come off as patronizing, Paton accomplished emotional density by staying simple and adopting local phrases.
Apostrophe, Aphorism, and Parallelism
Paton's writing has much in common with the style typical of Hebrew poetry. For this reason, Cry, the Beloved Country was often said to be quasi-Biblical. Three rhetorical devices found both in the Bible and in Paton's novel are apostrophe, aphorism, and parallelism. For an example of the apostrophe, one need go only so far as the title, taken from a passage within the text. This technique involves the direct address of the inanimate for sympathy or aid. The passage which gives us the title begins, "Cry, the Beloved Country for the unborn child." That is, the country is being asked to have mercy on the future.
The second device is aphorism. An aphorism is the use of a wise saying. This technique is employed often in the speech of Msimangu. For example, "It suited the white man to break the tribe ... but it has not suited him to build something in the place of what is broken." Or again, "It is fear that rules this land." Msimangu is authoritatively pronouncing a wisdom he has discovered through careful reflection.
The third technique occurs when Msimangu gives a sermon in chapter thirteen and the narrator attempts to describe his incredible voice. The narrator does this by a parallelism wherein an object (in this case, Msimangu's voice) is related to many things instead of being defined: "For the voice was of gold, and the voice had love for the words it was reading. The voice shook and beat and trembled, not as the voice of an old man shakes and beats and trembles, but as a deep hollow bell when struck...." Parallelism links descriptive phrases in a series so as to compound the complexity and amplify the impression of the object being described. With these serial phrases, the narrator embellishes the power of the voice by hypothesizing what else the voice does or what else the voice is like. The voice is related to things which the reader already knows to be valuable like "gold" and "love." Due to the associations, the reader imagines that he or she has arrived at the idea of the voice's magnificence independent of the help of the narrator but simultaneously with Kumalo.
Dramatic irony is a moment of high drama that occurs when at least one character is lacking information known to the reader. Paton employs this technique expertly in chapter twenty-five when, by chance, Kumalo and Jarvis meet. Jarvis has no idea who the black clergyman is. The two fathers meet at Barbara Smith's on a day when the court is not in session. Kumalo is looking for Sibeko's daughter who was rumored to have worked there. It is on this errand for Sibeko that Stephen finds the father of his son's victim. Jarvis, however, sees only a poor, old, black clergyman. For the reader, as for Stephen, this is a highly charged encounter precisely because one of the participants is unaware of the identity of the other.
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Cry, the Beloved Country's style is distinctive and unique. The diction, the symbolism, the imagery fit in perfectly with the Biblical language in which the novel has been written. The diction is simple, with noncomplex sentences, and is heavily Biblical since the protagonist, Stephen Kumalo, is a simple village parson. Kumalo is not a deeply philosophical figure. He has been educated in a missionary school where emphasis is laid on the Bible and on the three R's. Paton also uses Zulu and Afrikaans-based words to reflect the South African setting of the novel. The author himself has provided a glossary of non-English words used in the text. The dialogue in Cry, the Beloved Country is very realistic, typographically distinct, and mirrors the linguistic and sociological realities of the various ethnic groups in the novel. Whenever any character, especially Kumalo, deals with questions of an imponderable nature or with issues that demand divine intervention, the author tends to use rhetorical questions.
The symbolic aspects of the novel are extremely significant. The symbol of the titihoya signifies the rigid, artificial, political divisions which operate in the country. The titihoya sings in High Place, the homestead of James Jarvis where the land is fertile, and food and water are abundant. In sharp contrast, the bird no longer sings in the valley of Ndotsheni where one group of people, the blacks, are completely deprived, even of their dignity. As some critics have pointed out, the titihoya is unable to sing in this area where exploitation, decay, callousness, ignorance, fear, hatred, and brutality reign, and where agricultural practices are backward.
The drought at the novel's end, and the need for rain and for water, takes one back to T. S. Eliot's The Wasteland (1922) where water and rain have become symbols traditionally of birth, purification and love. In this case, the absence of rain is both physically and spiritually deadly to the people of the valley. The use of Biblical names such as Absalom, Stephen, Peter and John all contribute to the symbolic significance of the novel. The name Absalom connotes the disobedience of King David's son, Absalom, who came to his tragic death for betraying his father. Just as the Biblical figure has caused his father so much suffering and heartbreak, Absalom brings grief and heartache to his elderly father. Stephen Kumalo also suffers in the same way that St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, had to suffer.
Absalom Kumalo wants his son to be named Peter, in the tradition of St. Peter, the rock and founder of the Christian Church. Thus, Peter Kumalo is to be seen as the foundation of a new dynasty, a new line of redemption, hope and restoration. John Kumalo, like John the Baptist, wants a new dispensation, a new order of economic fairness for the blacks. In this sense, he may be seen as playing a similar role to John the Baptist, who served as the forerunner for Jesus Christ.
The structural division of the novel into three books, Book 1: The Search, Book 2: Trial and Reconciliation, Book 3: Restoration, seems to reflect the social barriers and divisions in South Africa.
Paton also uses a series of coincidences as a technical device, although at times these appear to be unnatural, contrived, or strained. Arthur Jarvis's son attends a school in Johannesburg, coincidentally named St. Marks, while that is the name of Kumalo's parish. Stephen Kumalo and James Jarvis meet accidentally at Springs, an East Rand town, at the house of Barbara Smith, where Stephen Kumalo goes in quest of Sibeko's lost daughter. In Book Three, just as the Bishop discusses Stephen Kumalo's transfer to Pietermaritzburg to work with Father Ntombela (because of the scandal created by Absalom and the proximity of the Jarvis family), Jarvis's letter of reconciliation and help arrives. Furthermore, James Jarvis promises to build a new church in the valley. The Bishop then relents, telling Stephen Kumalo, "I see it is not God's will that you should leave Ndotsheni." Irony and sarcasm are employed throughout the novel, especially in chapter 23. The most outstanding example is that Stephen Kumalo's son kills a champion of native causes, Arthur Jarvis. Thereby, Arthur Jarvis becomes the victim of the very causes for which he fights.
Arthur Trevelyan Jarvis is not physically present in the novel. His philosophy of life, his contributions to native causes and his practical examples of helping the underprivileged have been given to the reader via Arthur Jarvis's manuscripts, letters, artifacts and library. The use of diaries and manuscripts as part of the narrative is typical in Alan Paton and will be used again, significantly, in Too Late the Phalarope (1952).
The point of view of Cry, the Beloved Country should be further examined in order to fully understand the issues raised by the author. The omniscient narrator tells what the hero is thinking and doing at all times, as well as the thoughts and actions of the other characters. However, there is a parallel in the novel, provided through the manuscripts and letters of the late Arthur Jarvis, which come to life through his father's perusal. Interior monologues, especially when Stephen Kumalo is in prayer, frequently appear. An interesting aspect of this technique is the use of "authorial intrusion," where the author interjects his own thoughts or opinions onto the text. The best example of this in Cry, the Beloved Country occurs in the prison scene, where Stephen Kumalo questions Absalom on the nature of the friendship between Johannes Pafuri and Matthew Kumalo. A voice suddenly breaks through into the dialogue, admonishing Stephen Kumalo to leave Absalom Kumalo alone, "Old man, leave him alone. You lead him and then we spring upon him. He looks at you sullenly, soon he will not answer at all."
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 391
Cry, the Beloved Country's distinctive style incorporates diction and symbolism that complement the religious simplicity of the protagonist, Stephen Kumalo. A simple village parson, Kumalo is not a deeply philosophical figure. He has been educated in a missionary school where the Bible is taught almost to the exclusion of other subjects.
There is a lovely rood that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills ore grass-covered and rolling, beyond any singing of it.
The text incorporates a smattering of Zulu and Afrikaans-based words that reflect the South African setting, and Paton provides a glossary of non- English words. The realistic dialogue captures the speech patterns of the various ethnic groups portrayed.
The symbolic aspects of the novel illuminate its themes and characters. The behavior of the titihoya bird symbolizes the rigid, artificial political divisions that operate in the country. The titihoya sings in High Place, James Jarvis's homestead where the land is fertile and food and water are abundant. In sharp contrast, the bird is unable to sing in the valley of Ndotsheni, where the blacks live in extreme poverty and where exploitation and brutality reign.
The use of biblical names such as Absalom, Stephen, and Peter is also of symbolic significance. The name Absalom connotes the disobedience of the biblical Absalom, who comes to a tragic death for rebelling against his father. The long-suffering Stephen Kumalo's name recalls St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Absalom Kumalo wants to name his son Peter, in the tradition of St. Peter, the rock and founder of the Christian church. Thus Peter Kumalo is to be seen as the foundation of a new dynasty, with the potential for redemption and restoration.
Paton employs irony and sarcasm throughout the novel to point out the evils and hypocrisies of a society defiled by apartheid. The Bishop, for example, decides to transfer Stephen Kumalo from Ndotsheni because of his son's crime; only a letter from the influential white, Mr. Jarvis, saves Kumalo from this attempted injustice. When the Bishop quickly changes his mind, stating "I see it is not God's will that you should leave Ndotsheni," Paton shows with great irony that in South Africa, God's will and the white man's are inseparable. Another example of irony is that Arthur Jarvis, champion of native causes, becomes the victim of one the people for whom he fights.
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1948: Winning the national election, the National Party institutes a system of apartheid, officially segregating the black majority from the white minority.
Today: Nelson Mandela, having served twenty-seven years in prison, is sworn in as the President of South Africa in 1994. In 1996 he signs the new Constitution which, among other things, guarantees equal treatment before the law for all citizens—black or white.
1948: Those in opposition to Apartheid policies take hope in a brighter future by singing Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika.
Today: The anthem of hope, Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika, has become the national anthem of South Africa.
1948: The British Empire is crumbling as former colonies declare independence.
Today: The Soviet Union has collapsed and its republics have declared independence.
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As a novel of protest, Cry, the Beloved Country was strongly influenced by John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and in several ways the two novels are very similar. The protest novel as a genre goes as far back as the eighteenth century when Samuel Richardson wrote Pamela (1740), using the novel to attack many of the evils of life in his age. Other possible influences could have been Richard Henry Dana's Two Years Before the Mast (1869)and Upton Sinclair's The Jungle (1906), and even Charles Dickens, Paton's favorite author as a teenager.
Within a South African context, Cry, the Beloved Country as a protest novel sets a tradition. (William Plomer's Turbott Wolfe, published in 1925, by Hogarth Press, although a protest novel, does not really fall within the classification of modern South African literature.) Paton's work has been the forerunner of a whole body of subsequent South African protest literature written by South Africans of all races in which apartheid as a political system has consistently been the focus of attention and prophecy. Cry, the Beloved Country's impact is that it has left a legacy in South Africa in which writers use fiction, drama, poetry and the novel to attack the political system. In this respect, Paton can be regarded as the father of the modern South African protest novel, and Nadine Gordimer, Athol Fugard, Peter Abrahams, Alex La Guma, J. M. Coetzee, Andre Brink, Dennis Brutus, and Adam Small have all followed in the steps of Paton.
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Sheridan Baker, "Paton's Beloved Country and the Morality of Geography," in College English, Vol. 19, November, 1957, pp. 56-61.
Edwin Bruell, "Keen Scalpel on Racial Ills," in English Journal, Vol. 53, December, 1964, pp. 658-61.
Edward Callan, Cry, the Beloved Country: A Novel of South Africa, Twayne, 1991.
Edmund Fuller, Man in Modern Fiction: Some Minority Opinions on Contemporary American Writing, Random House, 1958, p. 40.
Harry A. Gailey, "Sheridan Baker's 'Paton's Beloved Country,'" in College English, Vol. 20, December 1958, pp. 143-44.
Harold C. Gardiner, In All Conscience: Reflections on Books and Culture, Hanover House, 1959, pp. 108-12.
Myron Matlaw, review of Cry, the Beloved Country in Arcadia, Vol. 10, No. 3, 1975.
Martin Tucker, Africa in Modern Literature: A Survey of Contemporary Writing in English, Ungar, 1967.
For Further Study
Graham Hough, "Doomed," in London Review of Books, December 3-16, 1981, pp. 16-17.
Rather than praise the novel for its political place, this critic restates the reason for this novel being viewed as a classic. It is the story of an individual grappling to understand the complexity of life in a society so obviously unjust as a racist one.
Tom McGurk, "Paton's Nightmare Came True," in New Statesman, Vol. 115, No. 2977, April 15,1988, pp. 7-8.
Written when things looked their worst in South Africa, McGurk feels that Paton's novel foreshadowed the increased racial oppression under Apartheid. He also tells the story of Paton's work being taught in school although he does not see this as the hopeful glimmer it will eventually prove to be.
William Minter, "Moderate to a Fault?" in New York Times Book Review, November 20,1988, p. 36.
In this article, Minter examines the concept of justice in Paton's novels and in his personal life.
Herbert Mitgang, "Alan Paton, Author and Apartheid Foe, Dies of Cancer at 85," in New York Times, April 12,1988, pp. Al, D35.
In this obituary, Mitgang chronicles the achievements of Paton's life as a writer, teacher, and political leader.
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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 racism.
Callan, Edward. Alan Paton. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1982. Contains ten chapters based on Paton’s own 1981 volume of autobiography, Towards the Mountain. Provides significant general background on Paton’s life and times, and a critical evaluation of his fiction, drama, biography, and poetry, including a full chapter on Cry, the Beloved Country.
Callan, Edward. “Cry, the Beloved Country”: A Novel of South Africa. Boston: Twayne, 1991. A supplement to the 1982 study, focused on the historical and literary context. Includes an eight-chapter critical reading and interpretation of the novel.
Paton, Jonathan. “Comfort in Desolation.” In International Literature in English: Essays on the Major Writers, edited by Robert L. Ross. New York: Garland, 1991. A general discussion of Alan Paton’s work, written by the younger of his two sons. Identifies a Christian ethic that calls for comfort in desolation as the single, most significant element of Cry, the Beloved Country.
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In 1951 Alan Paton and Zoltan Korda produced a film version of Cry, the Beloved Country with London Films. Starring Sidney Poitier, the film was recently released on video by Monterey Home Video.
In 1994, Cry, the Beloved Country was recorded on cassette by Blackstone Audio Books.
In 1995 Miramax filmed a new version of Cry, the Beloved Country, starring James Earl Jones and Richard Harris. The film was directed by Darrell James Roodt and produced by Anant Singh.
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Biko, Steve. Black Consciousness in South Africa. Edited by Millard Arnold. New York: Random House, 1979. A look at the racial situation in South Africa by a black South African leader of the anti-apartheid movement who later died in police custody.
Callan, Edward. Alan Paton. New York: Twayne, 1982. A basic biographical and critical study.
La Guma, Alex, ed. Apartheid: A Collection of Writings on South African Racism. New York: Lippincott, 1965. A concise and readable collection of essays written by authors, mostly South Africans, who had experienced this form of discrimination. Includes Brian Bunting's article "The Origins of Apartheid."
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