Cry, the Beloved Country

by Alan Paton

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

Quick answer:

Although the rural and urban divide is a main theme of this book, it is also shown that both groups are affected by fear and poverty in the same way, driving them to seek comfort in violence.

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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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