Alan Paton’s work, Cry the Beloved Country has been hailed as one of the best illustrations of social breakdown and racial injustice in the South African Society. Whereas literatures on the racial division in South Africa are framed around feelings of anger, tensions, bitterness and outrage, Paton has provided a balanced view of the surrounding aspects of the social injustices and promoted healing and understanding within this powerful piece of literature. This essay seeks to discuss social issue of racial inequality in the book and how the author uses characterization, settings, tone, theme and plot to tell the story of racial injustice in South Africa.
The blacks are forced to live in the tribal villages where there in scarcity or land and lack of social amenities while whites roam the cities like Johannesburg. The dominant white society heavily depends on black labor for which they pay very little in return. The structure results to a breakdown in social structures that formed the bedrock of their lives. In the conversation between Msimangu and Kumalo, the former says “the white man has broken the tribe but it But it has not suited him to build something in the place of what is broken” (36). Left homeless and struggling to survive on subsistence wages, the black society endures poor living conditions that generate a culture of crime.
The increasing levels of crime within the black society is also illustrated by Arthur Jarvis in stating that the old tribal system was a moral system. Our natives today produce criminals and prostitutes and drunkards not because it is their nature to do so, but because their simple system of order and tradition and the convention has been destroyed. It was destroyed by the impact of our own civilization. Our civilization has, therefore, an inescapable duty to set up another system of order and tradition and convention” (Chapter 20).
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Social Issues of Racial Inequality and Injustice
Theme of fear
Whereas a number of themes have been presented in this work, fear forms the best in the demonstration of social injustice in this novel. The cry for justice of a nation that forms the title of this book denotes the theme of fear. The author presents the most powerful analysis of the theme of fear that characterizes a society deprived of justice. In fact, one theme that strongly supports the title of the book is the theme of fear in that it occurs so many times. Msimangu says “It is fear that rules this land” (26). Kumalo, on the other hand, is encompassed by fear on his way to Johannesburg to search for his son.
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His fear is surrounded by the living condition he may find his son in. On hearing that a white man has been killed, Kumalo says “here in my heart there is nothing but fear. Fear, fear, fear” (41). A number of passages in the book depict fear as form of deprivation of justice. The white man is afraid to examine the injustices on the back people and the miners are afraid to go on strike because mining forms the bloodline of the economy. The whites are also terrified that the miners strike may spread to other industries. The final passages of the novel also tell of fear when the narrator reveals intone that “South Africa will be emancipated “from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear” (68).However, the strongest illustration of fear is well put by the author in stating that 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 much 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.
Another important literal strategy that has been exploited by the author is the characterization. The black characters such as Msimangu and Kumalo are depicted as blacks denied justice. Absalom Kumalo turns into crime because he is denied access to social justice and moves from place to place. Arthur Jarvis is also a character that depicts social injustice. He is the politically interested white man who argued against the social injustice and racial injustice. Arthur Jarvis is a well-known member of the white society who campaigned against social injustices against the native community. This makes his fellow whites to fail to understand him while natives embrace him. The reason for this is that he provided the best shoulder the native community could lean on because of the existing social injustices. He spoke of his fellow whites as “tyrants, oppressors, and criminals” (46).
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The title of the work itself – Cry the beloved Country presents a picture of a nation in distress. In the whole novel, the tone of the writer is that in which the characters are always in anguish and missing important ingredients that make life complete. The two important characters that tell story from the black man’s and white man’s perspective are Reverend Stephen Kumalo and a white landowner, James Jarvis.
From the beginning, the writer concentrates on the white man’s domination and racial injustices to the black man through a very sad and lonely distant tone. In the exploration of the life of Msimangu and Kumalo, the author presents two lonely souls who have great burdens to bear. Kumalo is overwhelmed and loses control while Msimangu thrives through the social injustice compounded by loneliness and racial segregation. The tone has literally been used in the entire novel to depict highest level of deprivation of social justice to the black native community.
The design of the plot presents two contrasting communities – one that is comfortable and satisfied with the status quo and the other that is struggling to find something they have been missing for long. A letter from a fellow minister about Gertrude’s illness makes Reverend Stephen Kumalo to make to make a long journey to Johannesburg with the aim of aiding his sister and finding his lost son – Absalom. In the ensuing debacle of the novel, Reverend Stephen Kumalo starts to see the racial and economic divisions that stand to split his beloved country.
The structure and development of the plot unfolds and reveal the racial injustices that his native community undergoes. In process of trying to locate his son, newspapers announce that a crusader of human rights, Arthur Jarvis has been murdered by a gang of burglars.
The relationship between Stephen Kumalo and James Jarvis
The relationship between Stephen Kumalo and his white neighbor, James Jarvis is a depiction on how the ability to arise above racial differences and perception can generate a beneficial relationship. Brought together after the death of Arthur Jarvis, Reverend Stephen Kumalo and James Jarvis get to know each other and both of them attend the trial of Absalom. The young man and the old one make true friendship that influences the entrenched feeling on the two communities that everything can be forgiven.
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Such a quality relationship enables the white man to become sympathetic to the living conditions of the native community and takes the initiative of donating food supplies such as milk. In addition to the above, the white man plans to support the farming activities of the native community by constructing a dam and moves ahead to hire an agricultural officer to demonstrate newer and highly productive farming techniques to the native community. Such small initiatives after the death of Arthur touch the core foundations of the social fabric of the community as they are captured in the media. The relationship between the two men proves beneficial to both ends in that the white man finds a way in which he can seek close relationship with the white man and the black re-evaluates his ability to forgive the white man on the past social ills.
On the very evening of Absalom’s execution, Reverend Stephen Kumalo goes to the mountains to have a solemn solitude. On the way, he accidentally meets Jarvis and the two men open up their hearts to the other and discusses the lost men in the society. Within this conversation, Arthur is mentioned as a young and innocent man with a lot to give to the community. The relationship between the two men has been depicted by the author as the hallmark of ability to forgive and achieve prosperity by two different communities with a history of hatred.
It can be confidently discerned from the above discussion that Alan Paton’s work, Cry the Beloved Country as a combination of literal strategies to effectively develop one of the emotionally touching novel of all time. It is devoid of anger and frustration often depicted in many novels about South Africa and apartheid. These are the combinations that make this literature a success.