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Cry, The Beloved Country Essay Essay, Research Paper

Alan Paton, in his novel, Cry, the Beloved Country, shows how the horrors of South African apartheid effected two individual families, one black and one white. Throughout the course of the novel, these two families overcome the chains of apartheid and learn that love and forgiveness cross racial lines. In this novel a black man, Absalom Kumalo, makes a decision to murder a white man, Arthur Jarvis. This decision effects the main character, Stephen Kumalo, a secondary character, James Jarvis, as well as the overall work.

Stephen Kumalo, the main character, is effected in many ways. First of all he suffers by the pain of having his son being a convicted murderer. Stephen Kumalo also suffers because having his son murder a man lowers his reputation as a pastor. He also has to deal with the fact that his son, Absalom, will be put to death for his actions, Stephen has to lose his son for justice to be brought about. Although, if Absalom had never killed Arthur Jarvis, Stephen Kumalo would have never met James Jarvis, Arthur?s father; much good came out of Stephen meeting James.

James Jarvis, a secondary character, was also effected by the death of his son, Arthur. First of all, he had to deal with his son no longer being with him. Although, if Absalom had not killed him, James would have probably never found out that his son was deeply involved in helping the black people win the rights that they deserved. When James discovered what his son did, it inspired him to help the black people even better than his son could because he had more money than his son did. This helped him to even better serve the blacks than his son could do, which is better for the natives.

Absalom killing Arthur effects the overall work in many ways. If Arthur had never been killed, Stephen Kumalo would have never met James Jarvis. James helps the city of Ndotsheni when he realizes how bad off they are. He gives them milk for the children, a dam to give them water in the dry season, and he wants to build a new church for them since their current one is in such bad condition. These two racially different families meeting and helping each other out gives hope to all people that apartheid can end some day.

In conclusion, when Absalom shot and killed Arthur, it did more good than bad. It helped out many more people than was possible before. The decision that Absalom made effects the main character, Stephen Kumalo, the secondary character, James Jarvis, as well as the overall work. This could have been the plan all along that one should die so that many more could live.

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Cry The Beloved Country Essay Essay Research

Cry The Beloved Country Essay Essay Research

Cry, The Beloved Country Essay Essay, Research Paper

Alan Paton, in his novel, Cry, the Beloved Country, shows how the horrors of South African apartheid effected two individual families, one black and one white. Throughout the course of the novel, these two families overcome the chains of apartheid and learn that love and forgiveness cross racial lines. In this novel a black man, Absalom Kumalo, makes a decision to murder a white man, Arthur Jarvis. This decision effects the main character, Stephen Kumalo, a secondary character, James Jarvis, as well as the overall work.

Stephen Kumalo, the main character, is effected in many ways. First of all he suffers by the pain of having his son being a convicted murderer. Stephen Kumalo also suffers because having his son murder a man lowers his reputation as a pastor. He also has to deal with the fact that his son, Absalom, will be put to death for his actions, Stephen has to lose his son for justice to be brought about. Although, if Absalom had never killed Arthur Jarvis, Stephen Kumalo would have never met James Jarvis, Arthur?s father; much good came out of Stephen meeting James.

James Jarvis, a secondary character, was also effected by the death of his son, Arthur. First of all, he had to deal with his son no longer being with him. Although,

if Absalom had not killed him, James would have probably never found out that his son was deeply involved in helping the black people win the rights that they deserved. When James discovered what his son did, it inspired him to help the black people even better than his son could because he had more money than his son did. This helped him to even better serve the blacks than his son could do, which is better for the natives.

Absalom killing Arthur effects the overall work in many ways. If Arthur had never been killed, Stephen Kumalo would have never met James Jarvis. James helps the city of Ndotsheni when he realizes how bad off they are. He gives them milk for the children, a dam to give them water in the dry season, and he wants to build a new church for them since their current one is in such bad condition. These two racially different families meeting and helping each other out gives hope to all people that apartheid can end some day.

In conclusion, when Absalom shot and killed Arthur, it did more good than bad. It helped out many more people than was possible before. The decision that Absalom made effects the main character, Stephen Kumalo, the secondary character, James Jarvis, as well as the overall work. This could have been the plan all along that one should die so that many more could live.

Cry The Beloved Country Essay Essay Research

Alan Paton, in his novel, Cry, the Beloved Country, shows how the horrors of South African apartheid effected two individual families, one black and one white. Throughout the course of the novel, these two families overcome the chains of apartheid and learn that love and forgiveness cross racial lines. In this novel a black man, Absalom Kumalo, makes a decision to murder a white man, Arthur Jarvis. This decision effects the main character, Stephen Kumalo, a secondary character, James Jarvis, as well as the overall work.

Stephen Kumalo, the main character, is effected in many ways. First of all he suffers by the pain of having his son being a convicted murderer. Stephen Kumalo also suffers because having his son murder a man lowers his reputation as a pastor. He also has to deal with the fact that his son, Absalom, will be put to death for his actions, Stephen has to lose his son for justice to be brought about. Although, if Absalom had never killed Arthur Jarvis, Stephen Kumalo would have never met James Jarvis, Arthur?s father; much good came out of Stephen meeting James.

James Jarvis, a secondary character, was also effected by the death of his son, Arthur. First of all, he had to deal with his son no longer being with him. Although, if Absalom had not killed him, James would have probably never found out that his son was deeply involved in helping the black people win the rights that they deserved. When James discovered what his son did, it inspired him to help the black people even better than his son could because he had more money than his son did. This helped him to even better serve the blacks than his son could do, which is better for the natives.

Absalom killing Arthur effects the overall work in many ways. If Arthur had never been killed, Stephen Kumalo would have never met James Jarvis. James helps the city of Ndotsheni when he realizes how bad off they are. He gives them milk for the children, a dam to give them water in the dry season, and he wants to build a new church for them since their current one is in such bad condition. These two racially different families meeting and helping each other out gives hope to all people that apartheid can end some day.

In conclusion, when Absalom shot and killed Arthur, it did more good than bad. It helped out many more people than was possible before. The decision that Absalom made effects the main character, Stephen Kumalo, the secondary character, James Jarvis, as well as the overall work. This could have been the plan all along that one should die so that many more could live.

Cry The Beloved Country Essay, Research Paper

Cry The Beloved Country Essay, Research Paper

The National Party introduced apartheid as part of their campaign in the 1948 elections, and with the National Party victory, apartheid became the governing political policy for South Africa until the early 1990s. The word apartheid means “separateness” in the Afrikaans language and it describes the rigid racial division between the governing white minority population and the nonwhite majority population. During this time there were many different political views on the basic conflict of South Africa. The views of white South Africans differed from the views of black South Africans on what would be necessary to end apartheid. Cry, the Beloved Country, a novel written by Alan Paton depicts the collective guilt and friendship over racial prejudices in the story of a black South African. Stephen Kumalo, an aging Zulu minister, travels from his tribal village to Johannesburg, where he finds that his only son, Absalom, has murdered the only son of a white man, James Jarvis. The tragedy connects these two fathers, who later begin to work together in an effort to help the natives of their own village. Paton’s Christian-liberal solution to the problems of South Africa were considered hopelessly inadequate by black antiapartheid activists. In the decades of open militancy from the 1970s, Paton’s political views and biblical resonances were doubted by the black readers who were involved in the political struggle. Paton’s stress on fixing the problems by blacks and whites working together was not a logical response for the blacks in South Africa. Paton’s solution came to represent an idea in which whites could retain the comfort of their lives while being able to be politically moral or correct. Alex La Guma, the author of In the Fog of the Season’s End expresses the need for a more militant effort to change things. He focuses on the struggle that the blacks are having and how they work together in the underground movement to destroy apartheid and the white world of privileges that supports it. Although their solutions to the political problems at hand are different both Paton and La Guma show compassion towards the current situation and take a stand through their novels.

Cry, the Beloved Country is a book about agitation and turmoil of both whites and blacks over the white segregation policy of apartheid. The book describes how understanding between whites and blacks can end mutual fear and aggression, and bring reform and hope to a small community of Ndotsheni as well as to South Africa as a whole. Edward Callan, a noted critic of Alan Paton, believes this fear is the reason that racial struggle cannot be resolved: “the no less real problem of the subconscious springs of racial attitudes that, tinged with ‘the bondage of fear’, inhibit justice and the inclination to restore” (Edward Callan p.32). The depth of this fear is a constant theme throughout the book: “I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they turn to loving, they will find we are turned to hating” (Alan Paton p.40). Paton gives the people of South Africa a new modern Bible, where he teaches them to “love thy brother as yourself” in order to help whites and blacks overcome the fear and misunderstanding of each other.

Paton describes the valley where the main character, Kumalo, lives; it is barren and “cannot hold the rain.” It is a valley of “old men and old women” that is deteriorating because the young people are not there to help take care of it (33-34). They all leave and go to the mines and the big cities, because the white man has convinced them this is where they belong. The natives move to the cities to look for opportunities, but are only oppressed by the rules and restrictions that the white man has placed upon them: “[they] cry for more education, and more opportunity, and for a removal of the restrictions on native labour and enterprise” (Paton 109). The whites keep the natives stupid and do not want them to have more money or become smarter. They push the natives down for they fear ” a better-paid labourer will also read more, think more, ask more, and will not be content to be forever voiceless and inferior” (Paton 110). The whites feel threatened by the possibility of equality with the natives even if they theoretically believe equality would be just.

The theme of fear continues throughout the book. Not only are the blacks in fear of the whites, the whites are in fear the blacks. As Edward Callan quotes “Fear shows in the eyes of the God-fearing as well as of the evil-doers” (Callan p. 32). The white man fears the crimes the natives are committing, but in fact, they are the ones responsible: “Johannesburg was afraid of black crime” (Paton 52). When the white man takes away the tribal system, he is taking away the moral system of the natives. The reason the natives turn to crime is because their “simple system of order and tradition and convention has been destroyed. It was destroyed by the impact of our civilization. Our civilization has therefore an inescapable duty to se up another system of order and tradition and convention” (Paton 179). Although Paton suggest that it is society’s responsibility to correct the damage that they have caused, the natives are still left without a foundation for their morals leading them towards a dishonest life. A priest in the novel says, “The tragedy is not that things are broken. The tragedy is that they are not mended again It suited the white man to break the tribe, but it has not suited him to build something in the place of what is broken” (Paton 56). The white man fears the natives will become smart and powerful and overcome the superiority of the white race: “for we fear not only the loss of our possessions, but the loss of our superiority and the loss of our whiteness” (Paton 110). The natives have turned to crime because the white society has destroyed their moral system and there is no where else to turn. Therefore, the whites simply blame the natives for their problems instead of looking for a solution to help them all. The native families are split up so they can work in the mines for the white man. Their purposes in life are clouded because the white man will not allow them any:

We shall always have native crime to fear until the native people of this country have worth purposes to inspire them and worth goals to work for. For it is only because they see neither purpose nor goal that they turn to drink, and crime and prostitution. Which do we prefer, a law-abiding, industrious and purposeful native people, or a lawless, idle and purposeless people? The truth is that we do not know, for we fear them both.” (Paton 107).

The natives continue working and praying for the dawn of a new Africa: “God have mercy upon us. Christ have mercy upon us. White man, have mercy upon us” (Paton 89). They hope for a dawn of “emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear” (Paton.312).

In Alex La Guma’s In the Fog of the Season’s End he has fully developed a novel that represents the basic conflicts of South African life. He, like Paton, focuses on the tension and the problems between the whites and the blacks. However, La Guma does this from the perspective of the blacks in the underground movement. Where Paton expresses the need for blacks and whites to get along La Guma takes the stand that to fight back it the only way to stop this on going problem. He portrays the dynamics of the underground movement through three main characters who are directly involved with the movement. Using these three characters and the characters that surround them and help them La Guma shows the struggle of the non-whites in South Africa.

La Guma begins the novel with a prologue that takes you to the middle of the current events. He begins by setting the scene where Elias, a black leader in the underground movement, is arrested and being interrogated by a white major. He has been arrested for participating in anti-apartheid activities. This prologue starts out with his arrest and torture and at the end of the book ultimately concludes in his death. Through the major and Elias, La Guma portrays the conditions for blacks during this time. In this scene, the major begins to ask him about the movement and uses a “friendly, sympathetic tone, like a doctor advising a patient” (La Guma 4). He soon loses this tone “there was defect in the disguises; the mask did not conceal all” (La Guma 4). After dropping the fake tone he talks to Elias in his real voice and expresses how he feels: “you see your people are not the same as we are. We can understand these things, mathematics. We know the things which are best for you. You want to be like the whites. It is impossible” (La Guma 4). La Guma uses the major’s speech to show that the whites feel that they are above the blacks and think that they know what is best for them. As

S.O. Asein quotes: “La Guma stresses in the major’s interrogation the common belief among South African whites in their racial superiority. By highlighting this attitude he succeeds in ridiculing their naivity in think that they know what is best for the suppressed non-whites”(Asein p123).

This opening act between Elias and the major is the basis for the novel; it gives background information on the race relations that are currently taking over South Africa. Kathleen Balutansky quotes that “The style and tone of both the prisoner’s and the Major’s remarks introduce the overwhelming tensions portrayed in this novel: more importantly, in representing the essential elements of the conflict in the prologue of the novel” (Balutansky p84-85). Elias gives a speech in response to the major’s, which La Guma uses to show how the blacks felt as a result of their oppression by the whites: “You want me to co-operate. You have shot my people when they have protested against unjust treatment; you have torn people form their homes, imprisoned them, not for stealing or murder, but for not having your permission to live” (La Guma 5-6). La Guma emphasizes the self-pride and dignity that Elias has in this response. Thus showing the loyalty and determination he has to fighting the resistance, which expresses the extreme need for it. Where as in Cry, The Beloved Country, Paton emphasizes the need for this understanding between whites and blacks and ultimately bringing reform and hope to the entire country. Paton also portrays through his novel the Christian based idea that changes can come from one man. La Guma shows the need for a group effort to change the situation:” There are things that people can do, I am not saying a person can change it tomorrow or next year. But even if you don’t get what you want today, soon, it’s a matter of pride, dignity”(La Guma 11). He expresses, unlike Paton, that change is not going to come as a result of one man, thus setting up the importance of the underground movement.

The fear present with everyone in Paton’s novel is also present in La Guma’s novel. The fear that consumes Beukes and Elias and Isaac, the main leaders of the underground movement, is what drives them to fight the resistance; “For a while Beukes was in the crowd on the sidewalk. You could get lost in a crowd; in an alleyway or alone on a street you were conspicuous. Yet he felt his heart beat uncomfortably, and his eyes panned across the faces of the passers-by” (La Guma 23). Even in a crowd Beukes’ fear arises and he becomes afraid that one of the people might be the secret police. His fear is heightened when he runs into a routine check at a train station. He was carrying illegal flyers for the movement and became consumed by fear: “and he waited for the next one while anxiety turned to anger and then back to the scratching worry” (La Guma 68). According to Kathleen Balutansky “the consciousness of danger generates fear and flight, while the experience of flight generates a sense of despair which, in turn generates the continued necessity of flight/Beukes’ move is accompanied by fear, and his every rational thought is focused on escape” (Balutansky 92). Beukes’ fear contains some aspects of paranoia, constantly running from “the enemy” has elevated his fear of getting caught. His paranoia could explain Balutansky reasoning of his every thought being focused on escape. He can’t stay in one place for too long because it will increase his chances of getting caught to he always on the run and always in fear

This series of “fear and flight” as the critic Balutansky put it continues to plague Beukes. Although this fear affects Beukes he does not allow it to break him; “I want to go home, I must go home, I want to go home to Francy. He still felt hollow but it was not the hollowness of hunger, and he realized, with tears prickling his eyeballs, that is was the hollowness of abandonment”(La Guma 147). Beukes wants to go home to Francy for comfort and security, which he does not have out on the streets. However, by running away from the resistance Beukes is running away from his ultimate chance of freedom. His commitment to the fight is stronger than his fear and desire for escape so he stays and continues to fight. However, Beukes has become isolated and lonely, running from the secret police, and in constant fear:

his life had become mysterious rides, messages left in obscure places, veiled telephone conversations. The torture chambers and the third degree had been transferred from celluloid strips in segregated cinemas to the real world which still hung on to its outward visible signs of peace: the shoppers innocently crowding the sidewalks, the racing results, the Saturday night parties, the act of love (La Guma 25).

This shows how Beukes is either on the run or is uncomfortably resting throughout the entire novel. He is forced to move from one place to another constantly looking over his shoulder. On his way to a friends house he is consumed with the though of sleep because he is so tired; “he wished the driver would stop talking; right then he not give a damn about politics, the resistance, the revolution; all he wanted was to get some sleep” (La Guma 27). He has had to surrender his basic human needs of sleep to continue fighting the resistance. This shows his dedication, willingness to fight and what he had to go through to eventually get freedom. Critic S.O Asein comments that “It is a condition which puts to test the loyalty of the individual to relations as well as to the collectivity. Thus in treating a particular case, La Guma has succeeded in universalizing his comment, on the conditions of the modern man, faced as Beukes is with the menace of blatant violence, in justice and man’s inhumanity to man” (Asein 128). La Guma portrays to the reader what it’s like for the “modern man” like Beukes who is participating in the resistance movement. He shows how the resistance affects the lives of the people involved and what they have to go through and give up to obtain the ultimate goal of freedom.

Both Paton and La Guma show the trials and tribulations that the people of South Africa went through during the time of Apartheid. Alan Paton calls for an end to racial injustice, misunderstanding and alienation of black and whites. Paton took his Christian-liberal view to this novel and expresses his beliefs in unity of the blacks and whites to stop racial discrimination when most people were used to hearing that fighting is the only answer. In contrasting opinion to Paton, La Guma expresses his belief that the blacks must work together to fight the whites. He shows through a series of current situations and flashbacks of three main characters what life was like in the resistance. Both novels show the horrible repercussions of Apartheid and how the affected to people and their townships.

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Human Qualities in Cry, the Beloved Country

Set in apartheid South Africa, Alan Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country portrays realistic characters by making them have human qualities, both negative and positive. The novel depicts both Msimangu and James Jarvis as compassionate because they help Stephen Kumalo in different ways. For instance, Msimangu, the main reverend at the Mission House, is compassionate because he aids Stephen in the search for Absalom, Stephen's son. Msimangu goes everywhere, from Doornfontein to the reformatory school to the girl's house with Stephen, trying to find Absalom and shielding Kumalo from the whole truth. Additionally, Msimangu gives Kumalo his Post Office book as a farewell present because he knows that Stephen needs the money more than him. Moreover, Msimangu always replies, "my hands are yours  (24) when Stephen inquires what he should do next, for Msimangu is always ready to help his fellow umfundisi due to his awareness of Stephen's suffering. James Jarvis, a wealthy landowner, assists Stephen by improving the village of Ndotsheni and the lives of Stephen's people, even though Stephen's son, Absalom, killed his son, Arthur. For example, when Stephen comes back to Ndotsheni and the children are dying from lack of milk, Jarvis sends it. Furthermore, Jarvis hires a planting demonstrator, Napoleon Letsitsi, to help teach the people of the village how to grow better crops and take care of the soil. Despite the fact that Stephen's son killed his son, James Jarvis still finds it in his heart to be compassionate and kind to Stephen, as a kind of memorial to Arthur- "I have seen a man ¦who was in darkness till you found him (272). Even though neither Msimangu nor Jarvis are somehow related to Stephen Kumalo, they demonstrate how really compassionate they are by succoring Stephen during his times of trouble.

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Cry, The Beloved Country Essay Essay, Research Paper

Alan Paton, in his novel, Cry, the Beloved Country, shows how the horrors of South African apartheid effected two individual families, one black and one white. Throughout the course of the novel, these two families overcome the chains of apartheid and learn that love and forgiveness cross racial lines. In this novel a black man, Absalom Kumalo, makes a decision to murder a white man, Arthur Jarvis. This decision effects the main character, Stephen Kumalo, a secondary character, James Jarvis, as well as the overall work.

Stephen Kumalo, the main character, is effected in many ways. First of all he suffers by the pain of having his son being a convicted murderer. Stephen Kumalo also suffers because having his son murder a man lowers his reputation as a pastor. He also has to deal with the fact that his son, Absalom, will be put to death for his actions, Stephen has to lose his son for justice to be brought about. Although, if Absalom had never killed Arthur Jarvis, Stephen Kumalo would have never met James Jarvis, Arthur?s father; much good came out of Stephen meeting James.

James Jarvis, a secondary character, was also effected by the death of his son, Arthur. First of all, he had to deal with his son no longer being with him. Although, if Absalom had not killed him, James would have probably never found out that his son was deeply involved in helping the black people win the rights that they deserved. When James discovered what his son did, it inspired him to help the black people even better than his son could because he had more money than his son did. This helped him to even better serve the blacks than his son could do, which is better for the natives.

Absalom killing Arthur effects the overall work in many ways. If Arthur had never been killed, Stephen Kumalo would have never met James Jarvis. James helps the city of Ndotsheni when he realizes how bad off they are. He gives them milk for the children, a dam to give them water in the dry season, and he wants to build a new church for them since their current one is in such bad condition. These two racially different families meeting and helping each other out gives hope to all people that apartheid can end some day.

In conclusion, when Absalom shot and killed Arthur, it did more good than bad. It helped out many more people than was possible before. The decision that Absalom made effects the main character, Stephen Kumalo, the secondary character, James Jarvis, as well as the overall work. This could have been the plan all along that one should die so that many more could live.

Cry, the Beloved Country Study Guide

by Alan Paton Cry, the Beloved Country Study Guide

Alan Paton wrote Cry, the Beloved Country during his tenure as the principal at the Diepkloof Reformatory for delinquent African boys. He started writing the novel in Trondheim, Norway in September of 1946 and finished it in San Francisco on Christmas Eve of that same year. Concerning the state of racial affairs in South Africa, the novel tells the story of the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his search in Johannesburg for his son, who is accused of murdering the white social reformer Arthur Jarvis. Paton gave the novel to Aubrey and Marigold Burns of Fairfax, California, who sent it to several American publishers, including Charles Scribner's Sons, whose editor, Maxwell Perkins, immediately agreed to its publication. According to Paton's note on the 1987 edition of the book, the novel was titled as such during a competition in which Paton, Aubrey and Marigold Burns each decided to write a proposed title and all three chose Cry, the Beloved Country.

Upon the publication of the novel in 1948, Cry, the Beloved Country became an instant phenomenon with near unanimous praise. Soon after its publication the composer Kurt Weill adapted it into a musical, "Lost in the Stars," and Paton himself worked on the screenplay for the 1951 film adaptation of the novel, directed by Zoltan Korda. In 1995, Miramax Films again filmed Cry, the Beloved Country, with James Earl Jones and Richard Harris in the roles of Stephen Kumalo and James Jarvis. respectively.

Undoubtedly much of the power of the novel comes from its depiction of the particular social conditions in its contemporary South Africa. The novel takes place in the time immediately before the institution of apartheid in the nation (the character Msimangu even discusses the possibility of apartheid), which occurred within a year of the novel's 1948 publication. Therefore, although the novel does not discuss the state of South Africa during the apartheid years, Cry, the Beloved Country is often used as a proxy for lessons concerning apartheid-era South Africa.

Even before the apartheid years, as Paton makes clear in his novel, discrimination against blacks in South Africa was significant. Blacks were forbidden from holding political office, had no viable unions, and certain positions were closed to them. The 1913 Native Lands Act prevented blacks outside of the Cape Province from buying land not part of certain reserves. But apartheid was officially institutionalized in 1948 with the election of the National Party and Daniel Malan as Prime Minister. The National Party enshrined apartheid into law with such legislation as the Group Areas Act, which specified that separate areas be reserved for the four main racial groups (whites, blacks, Coloreds, and Asians). The African National Congress, a group of black leaders under the leadership of Albert Luthuli and Nelson Mandela, emerged as the principal opposition to apartheid and the National Party's reforms. The African National Congress became increasingly militant, even using terrorist tactics that led to the government banning the ANC in 1960.

After several decades, the end of apartheid was a slow one that began with the election of F.W. de Klerk as leader of the National Party and President of South Africa. De Klerk began to permit multiracial crowds to protest against apartheid and met with blacks leaders such as Bishop Desmond Tutu. Most importantly, he lifted the ban on the ANC and ordered the release of the imprisoned Nelson Mandela. By 1993, the National Party and the ANC reached an agreement that pledged to institute a democratic South Africa. The ANC won political power in April of 1994 during the first nonracial democratic election, with 63 percent of the vote. Under the ANC, Mandela repealed all apartheid legislation, while the South African parliament approved a new constitution in 1996.

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Cry, the Beloved Country

Cry, the Beloved Country Cry, the Beloved Country Introduction In A Nutshell

While we can't necessarily speak for the "Beloved Country" (South Africa) of Alan Paton's heartwrenching 1948 novel about racism and injustice, we can say that Cry, the Beloved Country made us weep buckets of tears. We can promise that, if Paton had called the book Cry, the Beloved Shmoop. the title would definitely have been accurate.

And we aren't alone in finding Paton's work incredibly moving and powerful. Not only is his novel an Oprah's Book Club pick. but in the forty years between its publication in 1948 and Paton's death in 1988, it was translated into at least twenty languages and sold over fifteen million copies worldwide (source ). What's more, as South Africa's first internationally bestselling author, Paton paved the way for later well-known South African writers such as Nobel Prize winners Nadine Gordimer and J.M. Coetzee. Without a doubt, Paton's legacy as a writer and as a social reformer continues on today.

As for how Paton came to write his hugely successful book, we have to start with his pre-Cry job. Paton is definitely in the running for Shmoop's Most Unusual Day Job For an Author prize: before quitting to become a novelist full time after the financial success of Cry, the Beloved Country. Paton was a warden at Diepkloof, a juvenile detention center for black youth ages nine to twenty-one, in the segregated city of Johannesburg.

As Paton started running Diepkloof, he realized exactly how bad the public facilities available for black people could be in South Africa. When he first arrived at the reform school, he saw that the youths were locked into their rooms at night (with around twenty per room) with a container of water to share and an empty bucket to pee in until the next morning (source ). So while Paton worked to improve these awful conditions for the young men living at Diepkloof, he also used some of his experiences there as a source for his novel, to spread the word about social causes for the growing racial inequality dividing the nation.

Even though Cry, the Beloved Country actually appeared before racial segregation in South Africa reached its absolute worst stages in the 1950s through the 1980s, Paton's passionate and heartfelt discussion of prejudice has made his novel consistently relevant throughout South Africa's later anti-racist political struggles. It's one for the ages.

Looking at the diversity of South African life now, it is amazing to think that just twenty years ago, the country was still struggling through one of the bitterest racial struggles of modern history. As a black man, Nelson Mandela was only legally allowed to vote in his home country for the first time in 1994, when he was elected president. Talk about an incredible turnaround.

Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country obviously takes place long before Mandela's historic election and the start of a new, more racially equal South Africa. In 1948, the same year that Paton first published Cry, the Beloved Country. the Afrikaner National Party came up with the term apartheid to describe its new, stricter set of policies intended to enforce white legal domination over the black people of South Africa. "Apartheid" means "apartness" in Afrikaans, the language spoken today by the Afrikaners, descendants of 17th- and 18th-century Dutch settlers in southern Africa.

Because Paton's novel appeared around the same time that South Africa's racist laws began to grow really strict and far-reaching, Cry, the Beloved Country has always been associated with the policies of apartheid. Like the Jim Crow laws in the American South, apartheid limited the ways that black people and white people could interact. But apartheid went further than American segregation because under apartheid, all black people in South Africa (who make up a huge majority of the population) had to register their addresses with the cops. They also had to live in specially selected areas out in the countryside or around the edges of major cities. These settlements (a.k.a. townships) were much, much poorer than the white districts of the country.

Many of the white people who believed in apartheid felt that it was actually the divine purpose of the Afrikaner people to maintain the racial superiority of whites over black people in South Africa (source ). Many more white business owners also took advantage of these racist policies to improve their profits by forcing their black workers to work for very little pay. Both of these motivations—white supremacist racism and the greedy desire for economic advantage—appear in Cry, the Beloved Country to explain why so many white South Africans resist even basic social reform.

So even though Paton's book appeared right at the beginning of apartheid, Cry, the Beloved Country warned of some of the horrible damage that legalized racism would do to South African society—at least, that is, to people who were willing to listen.

We have to give Alan Paton a lot of credit for his work fighting racist attitudes towards black crime and poverty under South Africa's unfair economic and political structures. But we can't deny that despite his good intentions, there are parts of this book are pretty hard to take nowadays. What may have looked liberal sixty-odd years ago can seem a bit high-handed and patronizing by today's standards.

For example, many of Paton's white characters are kindly but frankly condescending helpers for the often-confused and overwhelmed black main character, Kumalo. And Kumalo is grateful to receive help, without many larger ideas or reform plans of his own. We get into some of Paton's biases against black activism in our "Character Analysis" of John Kumalo. And be sure to check out our analysis of Father Vincent for more on the paternalism" (in other words, well-meaning but sometimes excessive meddling) of these white characters.

Why Should I Care?

Cry, the Beloved Country is an important book because it gives us a thoughtful, wide-ranging view on the moral and social implications of legalized racism in South Africa. But it's a great book because it ties all of these big issues to a simple story with which we can all identify: the story of a kid who makes a terrible mistake and who has to face consequences, to the heartbreak of his concerned father.

After all, it's not like Cry, the Beloved Country is the only work of fiction to focus on the story of a naïve guy who gets in over his head, commits a crime, and winds up paying for it. On the funny side, think the Dude and Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski . caught up in a faked kidnapping scheme that leads to hilarious and awful consequences (poor Donnie!). Or for a more terrifying example, there's Breaking Bad 's Walter White, building his meth empire to pay for his medical bills. Or at least, that's how he starts out. but his good intentions don't last too long.

Certainly, the basic plot line of the decent-person-gone-wrong is pretty popular, no matter how many different versions we see of it. And we can totally see why. After all, at heart, these are all stories about more-or-less-okay people caught up in circumstances beyond their control. And who hasn't responded to a bad situation and somehow, totally accidentally, made things even worse?

Of course, our disasters aren't usually on the scale of the Dude's or Walter White's—or Absalom Kumalo's. But we have reacted badly to things and dealt with the consequences many (many) times. In fact, that sometimes seems to be what most of life is about: making mistakes, paying our dues, and at least trying to learn something from the experience, if we can.

So in Cry, the Beloved Country, while we might occasionally find ourselves overwhelmed by the historical and social contexts of the book, we can always return to its familiar emotional core. The personal experiences of in-over-his-head Absalom and his worried father Kumalo give this novel a simple, heartfelt center with which we can all sympathize—maybe all too well. And clearly, Alan Paton hopes that we'll learn from Absalom's example without having to make the same really dire mistakes that he made.