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Cry, the Beloved Country

by Alan Paton

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Discussion Topic

Analysis of urban and rural South Africa, inequality, and social justice in "Cry, the Beloved Country."

Summary:

Cry, the Beloved Country contrasts urban and rural South Africa to highlight inequality and social justice issues. Urban areas, represented by Johannesburg, are depicted as centers of crime and moral decay, exacerbating social inequalities. In contrast, rural areas symbolize traditional values and community. The novel critiques the systemic injustices that force rural inhabitants into urban poverty, emphasizing the need for social reform.

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How does Cry, the Beloved Country analyze urban and rural South Africa?

An important aspect of the way that the rural/urban divide is presented in this amazing novel is the way that both settings are linked to the overwhelming theme of inequality and the vicious cycle of poverty that seems to drive South Africa, and the novel as a whole. Note the way in which the rural landscape where black South Africans live is presented. They are only allowed small amounts of land, and this means that the soil on this land is very poor and the land becomes hard to farm. This, in turn, drives inhabitants to move to the city to seek work, as Gertrude and Absalom do. However, the city is shown to be a very dangerous place as being detached from your tribal roots leads so many into a life of crime and despair.

The two individual stories of Gertrude and Absalom are shown to repeated on a massive scale in the city, and thus a situation arises where you have protected white areas and black slums full of black South Africans who desire to show their anger against the whites. This leads to a situation of robbery and paranoia, which in turn leads to greater misunderstanding and fear. There is no empathy and fear. Note the way that Paton poignantly refers to the impact of this fear on his homeland:

Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.

The rural/urban divide is thus shown to be driven and exacerbated by the cycle of fear and poverty that impacts South Africa so greatly, making the problems that face both groups of people the same at its root.

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How does "Cry, the Beloved Country" combine inequality and social justice in South African society?

This is an interesting question to consider, because in some ways the novel seems to offer little hope for social justice compared to the many different examples that we are given of racial inequality in the novel. The one example that is positive and seems to present us with a beacon of hope set against the dark night of the rest of the novel is in Chapter 13, when Kumalo and Msimangu visit Ezenzeleni which is a shelter and a refuge for the blind. Kumalo is amazed at the way that black and whites work together with perfect equality to serve blind people. There is a massive contrast between this beacon of hope and the many, many different examples of inequality and fear that dominate South African society as a whole. Consider this very pertinent quote from Misimangu:

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 comments upon the way in which the major aspect of the relationship between whites and blacks is fear from the whites. Misimangu comments upon his doubts of social justice ever being achieved because of this fear, and the way that the fear is causing whites to act in ways that will make the blacks hate them.

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