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Alan Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country At the Diepkloof Reformatory for delinquent African boys, Alan Patonwrote Cry, the Beloved Country. In September 1946, he began writing thenovel in Trondheim, Norway, and finished it on Christmas Eve that yearin San Francisco. The novel tells the story of the Zulu pastor StephenKumalo and his search for his son, who is accused of murdering the whitesocial reformer Arthur Jarvis, in Johannesburg. As a result of Patondonating the novel to Aubrey and Marigold Burns of Fairfax inCalifornia, the novel was sent to several American publishers, includingCharles Scribner's Sons whose editor Maxwell Perkins immediatelyagreed to its publication. This book was titled "Cry, the Beloved Country"because Paton, Aubrey and Marigold each came up with their own titlesfor the novel, and all three chose Cry, the Beloved Country as their finalchoice.
Cry, the Beloved Country became an instant sensation upon its release in1948, with nearly unanimous praise. Kurt Weill wrote a musical versionof the novel called "Lost in the Stars," and Paton himself wrote thescreenplay for the 1951 film adaptation of the novel directed by ZoltanKorda. With James Earl Jones and Richard Harris as Stephen Kumalo andJames Jarvis, respectively, Miramax Films remade Cry, the BelovedCountry.
Unquestionably, the novel's power is derived in large part from itsdepiction of the specific social conditions that exist in contemporarySouth Africa.. Msimangu even discusses apartheid in the novel, whichwas published a year before apartheid was enacted in South Africa in1948. Although Cry, the Beloved Country does not discuss apartheid-eraSouth Africa, the novel is often used as a proxy for lessons on the subject.
In Paton's novel, Blacks in South Africa were subjected to significantdiscrimination even before the apartheid era. Blacks were not allowed tohold political office, had no viable unions, and certain positions were notopen to them. Non-reserve land purchased by blacks outside the CapeProvince was prohibited by the 1913 Native Lands Act. In 1948, theNational Party and Daniel Malan were elected Prime Minister, andapartheid was formally established. The National Party enactedlegislation such as the Group Areas Act, which stipulated that separateareas for the four main racial groups were to be established in SouthAfrica (whites, blacks, Coloreds, and Asians). It was Albert Luthuli andNelson Mandela who led the African National Congress, a group of black
leaders who opposed apartheid and National Party reforms. In 1960, thegovernment banned the African National Congress after it becameincreasingly violent and used terrorist tactics.
F.W. de Klerk's election as leader of the National Party and President ofSouth Africa marked the beginning of the end of apartheid. BishopDesmond Tutu and other black leaders met with De Klerk, who beganallowing multiracial crowds to demonstrate against apartheid. On top ofthat, he ordered Nelson Mandela's release and lifted the ANC's ban on theorganisation. National Party and ANC signed a deal in 1993 thatpromised to bring democratic South Africa to fruition. In April of 1994,the ANC won political power with 63 percent of the vote in the firstnonracial democratic election. In 1996, South Africa's parliament passeda new constitution after Nelson Mandela repealed all apartheidlegislation.
SummaryAfter receiving a letter from the Reverend Theophilus Msimangu, a SouthAfrican pastor, asking him to travel to Johannesburg to save his sister,Gertrude, who is in critical condition. A portion of Kumalo's son'seducation funds must be used for the trip. As of this writing, Absalom hasnot been seen or heard from. On his way to the train station, a friend ofStephen Kumalo requests that Kumalo hand the Smith family's daughter,Sibeko Smith, a letter.
Kumalo waits in line for a bus in Johannesburg, where he is tricked by ayoung man who Kumalo gives money to buy a ticket. When Kumalofinally makes it to the Mission House, Msimangu arranges for him to staywith Mrs. Lithebe in her home. He reveals that Gertrude has "manyhusbands" and has been jailed for making bootleg liquor and working as aprostitute because her husband never returned from the mines where he'dbeen hired to work. Also, Msimangu reveals that Kumalo's brother Johnis no longer a carpenter, but a politician. Gertrude lives in Claremont, asuburb of Johannesburg, and the two men pay her a visit. John Kumalowill know where Absalom lives in Johannesburg, and Kumalo chastisesGertrude for her behaviour and her lack of consideration for her youngson. To Mrs. Lithebe's house, Kumalo brings Gertrude and the youngchild.
Stephen Kumalo visits his brother John, who tells him that his wife hasbroken up with him and that he is now living with another woman. Johnclaims that he is more free in Johannesburg because he no longer has toanswer to the chief and he owns his own business. Absolom worked at the
Doornfontein Textiles Company in Alexandra with John's son and theyshared a room. Kumalo discovers that Absalom had been staying with aMrs. Ndlela in Sophiatown while he was in Doornfontein. When he getsto Alexandra, Mrs. Ndlela provides him with a forwarding address, whichhe can use. She also tells Kumalo that she disliked the company ofAbsalom's companions.
Msimangu and Kumalo have to walk to Alexandra because of a busboycott. At Mrs. Mkize's house, they find a terrified woman claimingAbsalom has been missing for nearly a year. Mrs. Mkize is interrogatedby Msimangu while Kumalo takes a walk to get a drink. He assures herthat whatever he tells her will not harm her, so she agrees to meet withHlabeni, the taxi driver. Using this taxi driver, they learn that Absalomhas settled in Shanty Town, Orlando, where squatters live. Msimangu andKumalo see a white man driving black passengers back to the MissionHouse, and Kumalo chuckles at the white man's sense of social justice,while Msimangu claims that the kindness of the white man has beatenhim to the punch.
Shanty Town is visited by Msimangu and Kumalo, who learn thatAbsalom lived with her until the magistrate sent him to the reformatory,which Mrs. Hlatshwayos informs them of A white man who works at thereformatory tells them that Absalom left early because of his goodbehaviour and is now in Pimville, ready to marry a pregnant girl.Absalom went to Springs on Saturday, and he hasn't returned yet, the girltells them. While Msimangu says that the girl is out of his hands, Kumalosays that the girl's child will be his grandchild and he must take care of it.This week, Absalom has not been at work, according to informationprovided to Kumalo by a white inmate at the reformatory.
Kumalo and Msimangu accompany Msimangu to Ezenzeleni, the place ofthe blind, where Msimangu will conduct a service for the blind. At dinner,they learn of Arthur Jarvis's murder, a well-known city engineer and theson of James Jarvis of Carisbrooke, the President of the African Boys'Club. For his efforts to improve the lives of non-European members ofsociety, Arthur Jarvis was widely recognised. Absalom Kumalo wondershow he failed with his son after it is revealed that he is a suspect in ArthurJarvis's murder.
John visits the prison with Stephen Kumalo after learning that his sonwas an accomplice in the murder of Arthur Jarvis and that they werefriends with Absalom. Kumalo finds his son in prison and interrogateshim about the case's various details. However, Arthur Jarvis' death was
not Absalom's intention; it was just an accident. He claims that there is noevidence that his son, who was part of the robbery with Absalom andanother friend, Johannes Pafuri, was involved.
Mrs. Lithebe's house is visited by a man from a reformatory who islooking for a lawyer for Kumalo, because he doesn't trust John and thinkshe'll try to put all of the blame on Absalom. He tells Kumalo that his sonwill be severely punished no matter what happens. In Pimville, Kumalotells the pregnant woman about the death of Absalom the next day. Whilethey are in the middle of an argument, he questions her about her desireto join their family and her desire to have another husband. In the end,Kumalo is convinced that the girl will join him in rural Ixopo and lead apeaceful life.
The girl joins them as they return to Mrs. Lithebe's residence. WhileGertrude is careless and uninterested in living there, the girl enjoys beingthere. When Kumalo visits Absalom again, he tries to get his son and thegirl to marry. That John Kumalo's son (also named John) and the othersuspect, Johannes Pafuri, have all blamed Absalom. A white pastor,Father Vincent, introduces Kumalo to the attorney Mr. Carmichael, whowill represent him pro bono.
James Jarvis, the father of Arthur Jarvis, is the narrator of the secondsection of the novel. Police captain van Jaarsveld informed James Jarvisthat his son had been murdered and that a plane was waiting inPietermaritzburg for him. In order to get to Johannesburg, Jarvis tells hiswife Margaret that he's going. Upon their arrival, Jarvis meets MaryHarrison's brother, John Harrison. Police have been combing theplantations on Parkwold Ridge, he tells them. His son had been writing apaper on "The Truth About Native Crime," and Jarvis admits to John thathe and his son disagreed on the topic of native crime. After learningAfrikaans, Arthur Jarvis was considering learning Sesuto in order to runfor office in the next election. Jarvis is baffled as to why this crimetargeted his son, and he regrets the fact that he never got to know his sonbetter.
While attending the funeral of Arthur Jarvis, James Jarvis encountersseveral new experiences. The first time Jarvis attends church with blackpeople and the first time he shakes hands with a black person is at thisservice. In order to learn more about his son, Jarvis asks John Harrison totake him to the Claremont Boys' Club, where his son had done a lot ofcommunity service work as a teenager. A former servant of Arthur's,Richard Mpiring, was able to identify one of the perpetrators, according
to Jarvis. It is Jarvis who is moved by his son's criticism of South Africaas a country that claims to be Christian but does not practise many of theChristian ideals.
There are three defendants (John Kumalo, Johannes Pafuri) on trial, andeach is asked to enter a plea. Because he cannot plead guilty to culpablehomicide, Absalom does not plead guilty. Mpiring was hit in the back byan iron bar, and Arthur Jarvis was shot because he was afraid. In responseto a question from the prosecutor, Absalom cannot give a satisfactoryanswer as to why he carried a loaded gun when he did not intend to use it.Afterward, Stephen Kumalo, Msimangu, Gertrude, and Mrs. Lithebeleave the courtroom. As soon as he sees James Jarvis, the man whose sonAbsalom killed, he is overcome with fear.
Jarvis returns to his son's house and discovers Arthur's "Private Essays onthe Evolution of a South African," in which Arthur wrote that being aSouth African is difficult and that his parents gave him a great deal butsheltered him from the real South Africa.. He wrote in this paper that he iscommitted to South Africa because he cannot deny the South African partof his identity.
During their visit to Barbara Smith's house, James and Margaret Jarvismeet Margaret's niece. Stephen Kumalo visits with the letter from Sibekowhile they are there. Stephen Kumalo trembles and almost faints when hesees Jarvis. A concerned Jarvis asks him what's wrong. Theyacknowledge that there is a weight between them, and Kumalo revealsthat his son killed Arthur Jarvis. There is no resentment in Jarvis, he tellsKumalo firmly. By talking to the Smith family's daughter, Kumalo andJarvis learn that Sibeko's daughter was fired because she started makingliquor in her room and that she doesn't know or care where she is now.For some reason, Jarvis omits the fact that Smith doesn't care where thegirl is when translating Smith's Zulu words into the language of Zulu.When Kumalo respectfully departs, Jarvis confesses to his wife that he istroubled by something from the past that has come to light.
Even though John Kumalo knows that his speech could spark unrest andeven rioting, he restrains himself because he doesn't want to be arrestedbecause of the discomfort it would cause. John Kumalo is speaking at therally, and Jarvis is there to hear him.
They argue about Gertrude's behaviour, because Mrs. Lithebe believesthat Gertrude associates with the wrong types of people and warns her notto hurt her brother any more.. Finally, Gertrude reveals her desire tobecome a nun, and while Mrs. Lithebe is pleased, she asks her to keep thelittle boy in her thoughts. In the end, Gertrude asks the pregnant girl if shewould care for her son if she were to become a nun, and sheenthusiastically agrees.
Absalom Kumalo is found guilty, but the judge finds no evidence thatJohn Kumalo or Johannes Pafuri were present, so they are found notguilty. Absalom is sentenced to death by hanging because the judge findsno mitigating circumstances. During the end of the court session, Kumaloand the white inmate from the reformatory leave the courthouse together,breaking a longstanding tradition.
Absalom and the pregnant girl are married at the prison by FatherVincent. A row erupts between Stephen and Kumalo after Stephensuggests that Kumalo may be harbouring feelings of animosity toward hisbrother. Stephen speculates that someone in his family is plotting tobetray him in order to harm him and his brother. According to Stephen,Absalom also had friends who betrayed him, which is exactly what Johnis lamenting about his. Stephen is thrown out of John's shop and yelled atin the street by John. Stephen apologises to his brother for inciting him,because all he wanted to say was that power corrupts and that a man whostands up for justice must be pure in heart. He feels terrible.
Before he leaves, Jarvis gives John Harrison a letter asking him to carryon Arthur's work and a $10,000 check to get the Arthur Jarvis clubstarted. He throws a party at Mrs. Lithebe's house before Kumalo leaves,in which he thanks her for all of her help. He gives Kumalo money tocompensate him for all the new responsibilities they've taken on, beforethey leave. When Kumalo returns to the house, he discovers that Gertrudehas gone to become a nun.
Upon his return to his home, Stephen Kumalo shares the verdict andpunishment with his wife. There has been a month-long drought in thearea where they live. Since returning to ministry, Kumalo has preachedonly one service. In it, he implores the divine providence to send himback to Africa. Considering his responsibilities to his family, Kumaloquestions whether he can continue as pastor. Kumalo decides to speakwith the chief and the school's headmaster about Ndotsheni's situation.The chief does not assist Kumalo when he approaches him. According toKumalo, they should do everything in their power to keep as many peoplein Ndotsheni as possible. After returning to the United States, a youngwhite boy visits Kumalo with the hope of learning some Zulu words. Theboy asks for milk, which prompts Kumalo to tell him about the drought
and how many small children are dying as a result of the lack of rain. Theyoungster promises to return to Kumalo at some point in the future. Afterdinner, Kumalo's friend inquires as to whether or not he had seen a smallwhite boy today, and offers to distribute milk to the little ones. The Jarvisestate, it's safe to assume, donated the milk.
Absalom's letter to his wife and parents, Msimangu's letter, and Mr.Carmichael's letter all arrive in Kumalo's mailbox from Johannesburg.Absalom will be hanged on the fifteenth of the month, according toCarmichael's prediction. By giving the children some milk, his wife,Kumalo, hopes to distract her husband from the pain. He sees Jarvis, whois meeting with the magistrate and the chief of the town. DespiteKumalo's inability to hear, they appear to be debating somethingimportant as they use sticks to make their plans known to him. After theothers have gone, Jarvis remains. Jarvis and Kumalo remain in the churchas a storm approaches. Jarvis discovers that Absalom will not be spared.
Gertrude's child and Kumalo's wife greet the small white boy as hereturns to the house to learn Zulu. Following his departure, Kumalo visitsthe church, where he meets the new agricultural demonstrator, NapoleonLetsitsi. A dam will be built in Ndotsheni so that the cattle will alwayshave access to fresh water to drink and produce milk, according to Jarvis,who he claims sent him to teach farming there.
A friend informs Kumalo that Mrs. Jarvis has passed away, and despiteher concern that she may have died of grief and that a letter might beinappropriate, Kumalo writes a letter of condolence to James Jarvis.When the Bishop comes to see Kumalo, he suggests that he step down aspastor, but Kumalo insists that he would die if he did so. After learningthat Jarvis is sending milk for the children, the Bishop agrees thatKumalo can remain as pastor, despite the Bishop's initial reluctance.
The new developments have sparked a new wave of excitement in thevalley. Like many other times in his life, Kumalo decides to go up on anearby mountain on the day of Absalom's execution. While on his way tothe mountain, Kumalo runs into Jarvis, who reveals to him that he isrelocating to Johannesburg to be closer to his daughter-in-law and herfamily. During his time on the mountain, Kumalo contemplates a varietyof people, including Msimangu from the reformatory, Mrs. Lithebe, andFather Vincent. He wonders why Jarvis has been so kind despite theirhistory, but he also wonders when South Africa will be freed from fearand bondage.
ThemesFamily and country reunificationBy bringing back his sister Gertrude and son Absalom, Stephen Kumalohopes to reunite his family in Cry, the Beloved Country. As the plotunfolds, this theme assumes greater significance. Paton explores the ideathat South African families are in disarray, primarily through theKumalos, but also by extending the concept to include all families in thecountry. It is Kumalo's realisation that the families of Ixopo and SouthAfrica as a whole need to be reunited as a result of migration toJohannesburg in the novel, such as the family of Sibeko. Reuniting thefamily in South Africa and reuniting village life in Ndotsheni in the thirdsegment of the novel both reflect and expand this theme. Arthur Jarvis'swritings on South African national identity are used by Paton to illustratethe theme of reuniting family and nation. According to Arthur Jarvis'works, one of the main reasons he worked for social justice was to unitethe nation as a whole rather than a nation of different ethnic groups.
Kindness as a Christian ValueIn Cry, the Beloved Country, Paton emphasises the importance of alwaystreating others with kindness. According to Stephen Kumalo andTheophilus Msimangu, two pastors who have a strong Christianinfluence, this value has a Christian connotation. In Paton's view, thesimple act of kindness is a partial solution to the problems in SouthAfrica; it is the reciprocal kindness between Jarvis and Kumalo thatcauses the bond between them to develop, while it is Kumalo's kindnessto the small white boy that serves as the impetus for Jarvis to work onbehalf of South Africa by donating milk to fight against the drought andby arranging for the placement of new farming methods in Ndotsheni.
The Disruptions between the Urban and the RuralThe novel's central theme is the conflict between urban and rural societyand the various qualities that they represent. Stephen Kumalo and hispersonality best represent rural life for Paton, while John Kumalo bestrepresents urban life. Aside from Paton's admiration for the virtues ofrural life (family, religion, morality and stability), rural society alsorepresents Paton's preference for a chaotic urban life (hedonism,materialism and atheism). Several characters in Paton's novel, such as thepregnant girl who moves to rural Ndotsheni, represent a shift in morality,while the most corrupt character in the novel, John Kumalo, remainsfirmly ensconced in the urban Johannesburg society depicted in the novel.
EmancipationEmancipation and freedom are figuratively and literally evoked in Cry,the Beloved Country's numerous references to the American civil rightsmovement. Arthur Jarvis, an ardent admirer of Abraham Lincoln, usedemancipation imagery in his own quest for social justice by drawing onLincoln's efforts to free the slaves. It's a way for Paton to show how theantebellum U.S. and his contemporary South Africa, both of which arestriving for justice for African Americans, are similar. However, Patondoes not use the theme of emancipation merely for its literal context;rather, the major question of the novel at its conclusion is when freedomfrom fear, poverty, and bondage will be realised..
The Public Significance of ActionsIn Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Paton makes the assumption thatactions have significance not because they are significant in and ofthemselves, but because of what they represent. During the journey fromAlexandra back to Johannesburg, and at the end of the trial of AbsalomKumalo, this is most clearly demonstrated. On the one hand, there is thecase of a white man who drives a group of black men to support thestrike, and on the other, a young black man from a reformatory is seenexiting a courtroom with a white man. It's Paton's way of demonstratingthe need to demonstrate allegiance and loyalty in order to win the battlefor justice in South Africa.