(Novels for Students)

Nature and Its Meaning
The tone of the novel, set from the first paragraph, is like a parable told of a distant place of beauty. Yet within that idyllic setting something is going horribly wrong. By the end of the second paragraph, the tone has changed to show that nature's lush greenness is actually fragile and interdependent with humans. "Destroy it and man is destroyed." Cry, the Beloved County is first and foremost the story of a land exploited and left to suffer by a people running after gold. Paton's story contains hope that a balance can be regained by raising awareness about the state of things so that the "natives" will have hope and men like Jarvis will make concessions so as to help them help themselves. It is a hope that the children will not care so much for ownership of the land or things, but for the beauty of the land and for each other.

From the start of Stephen Kumalo's journey to retrieve his family from Johannesburg, there is the unsettling presence of the land. Some critics have said that the land itself is a character in the novel whose pit of illness is the city. First, the land is described as lovely grass and hills, but then attention is drawn to the jarring effect of the road cutting through them. Next, as Kumalo journeys towards the city, the scars of industry are more pervasive as are the burdens on his people. Finally, the city is all noise and pollution and people. Africa is a sick person needing rescue from all those who depend upon it. Like Gertrude, the ill sister Stephen searches for, Africa is calling for someone to rejuvenate it. However, though Jarvis begins by sending an expert, Mr. Letsitsi, the reader can only hope that the land will have more success than Gertrude.

Clearly, the land's health or illness is isomorphic, that is having similar appearance, to the healthy state of the tribe and the nation. The land is the only concern of the tribal leader since most of his people have left for the city. The land is a common conversational topic amongst black and white farmers who are concerned at the growing length of time between rains. There is something very wrong in Africa, and people feel it. The land is ill and society seems to be out of order with itself. Unfortunately, the people decide to worsen things by increasing the burden on the majority of its population—the non-whites—and by doing little to restore the vitality of the withering beauty of the land.

Fear, the emotion that never seems to diminish throughout the novel, is ever present to Stephen. He fears for the land, for his son, for Jarvis, for all he sees in the city. Everyday a new fear arises and the greatest is that his faith is somehow pointless. This fear is a...

(The entire section is 1130 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The most central themes of Cry, the Beloved Country, as in all of Paton's works, are those of love and fear, love for all the peoples of South Africa (including the Afrikaans-speaking, the English, the Blacks, the Coloreds, the Indians), and love for the land itself. Love in this novel is the unifying factor that will bind together the various ethnic groups. Love will help them to overcome their greed, fear and mistrust of each other. In short, love will be the panacea that will help them to live in peace and harmony, and to eschew hatred and distrust. As Paton himself expounds in the author's note to Cry, the Beloved Country, "It is my own belief that the only power which can resist the power of fear is the power of love. It's a weak thing and a tender thing; men despise and deride it. But I look for the day when in South Africa we shall realize that the only lasting and worthwhile solution of our grave and profound problems lies not in the use of power, but in that understanding and compassion without which human life is an intolerable bondage, condemning us all to an existence of violence, misery and fear." In fact, the word "fear" runs throughout the novel, being used several hundred times.

A second theme is about the cities (Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban), their attractions, temptations and dangers, and the society they create. The exodus from the reserves has created a society of overlords and the slum dwellers, whose lives are constantly...

(The entire section is 321 words.)