Cry the Beloved Country
Cry the Beloved Country When the earth’s humans were endowed with that spark of life, that intelligence that enabled them to plan ahead for the future generations of all of the creatures inhabiting the earth, and indeed even the very earth itself, only a few took up the challenge—they have since the “beginning” been the “People of the Earth”. Cry the Beloved Country is the story of some of those people who found themselves born to Africa. Alan Paton became their spokesperson the minute he wrote these words: Cry the beloved country, for the unborn child who 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, not 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. Cry the Beloved Country , page 8 This book touched me deeply for two reasons: Paton’s mastery of the beauty of the written word and because my grandmother was a “Person of the Earth”.
Cry the Beloved Country Essay Example
She was born on a different continent to a different piece of earth, but no less a part of the earth. She often quoted her own grandmother who first settled the little farm my grandparents bought when my grandfather came home from WWII, “This 62 acres is too much to starve on and not enough to make a living. ” Yet five generations have persisted, careful stewards of this little piece of earth—our little piece of earth—and its many inhabitants: the little brown earthworms in the soil, the ancient pear tree, the owl nesting in the pine tree….
They say that my grandmother was afraid to die, but I knew her to be incredibly emotionally and physically brave. Now I think I know the origin of her fear. She loved the earth too deeply to leave it to the stewardship of others. She said to me as I was pushing her wheelchair on a particularly lovely spring afternoon outside the Alzheimer’s unit to which she had been forcibly assigned, “I am too sad I will never be a farmer again. ” She simply did not want to leave her earth.
Paton’s story takes place in South Africa in the 1940s against a backdrop of racial tension stemming from economic and political inequality that has a history dating back to the mid-1600s when the first Dutch settlers arrived in South Africa. Before this time southern Africa was populated only by various African tribal groups. The story of South Africa’s colonization is not so different from the colonization of the Americas. At first the Dutch only wanted to set up bases for trade, not to colonize the country, and they met with little resistance from the original inhabitants.
But as more and more Dutch people were born “to the African earth”, they renamed themselves the Boers, developed the Afrikaans language, and by the mid-1700s were settling deeper and deeper into the native Africans’ country taking over their land. Just like the Native Americans, the African tribes were forced off of their traditional lands, decimated by disease and starvation, and defeated in battle by the much better armed Boers. Arriving in 1795, the British aimed to make South Africa a full-fledged colony.
For the next hundred years there followed a series of bloody battles involving the British and the Boers and the Zulus, the Zulus led by the famous warrior-leader Shaka. The next two hundred years were not kind to “The People of the Earth” on either continent. In the end the British were victorious in South Africa and in 1910 they established the Union of South Africa. Just as in Ireland, India, and throughout the British Empire, colonial rule was brutal and oppressive. In 1913 the Native Lands Act limited the amount of land that black South Africans were permitted to own.
As Arthur Jarvis stated in the novel, “…just one-tenth of the land was set aside for four-fifths of the country’s people. ” Cry the Beloved Country, page 179. Years of drought, overcrowding on the land, poor farming practices, and the practice of turning a blind eye to their black neighbors’ plight—indeed the failure to even recognize them as fellow humans—forced many black South Africans to migrate to Johannesburg to work in the mines and to find whatever work they could find just to eat.
It is into this maelstrom of racial and social upheaval immediately before the 1948 implementation of apartheid when one of the novel’s protagonists, Stephen Kumalo, finds himself forced to travel to Johannesburg to find his son and his sister. A Zulu priest, Kumalo is a quiet, humble, gentle man who has a strong moral value and an abiding faith in God. He is sorely tested when he enters the big city of Johannesburg after living his entire life in his little village of Ndotsheni in the Natal province of eastern
South Africa. Those in power, I am sure we would recognize them today, those for whom too much of everything is not enough, were welcoming the huge influx of cheap black labor to keep their gold mines going and the gold prices high. Not being “People of the Earth”, it never occurred to them to provide adequate housing or indeed any sort of services to villagers flooding into Johannesburg. Naive, hungry, confused village people easily fell prey to the big city “snake people”.
Just like little mice they were taken by the vipers who had been patiently waiting. The “snake people” always know just which paths their victims will be taking. Sustenance for the body and the soul drives the newcomers to liquor, drugs, sex and finally crime. And even though the white man did not provide other services, they did provide themselves with diligent “officers of the law”. This was the unfortunate path of Absalom Kumalo, as his father was to learn, who because of his fear and naivete, found himself a prisoner of those officers of the law.
A young black priest, Msimangu, who befriended Kumalo upon his arrival in Johannesburg explained to Kumalo the horrible tragedy of Johannesburg (that is Johannesburg even today) very succinctly when he said, “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. ” Msimangu went on to say, “There are some white men who give their lives to build up what is broken. But they are not enough…They are afraid, that is the truth. It is fear that rules this land. Cry the Beloved Country, page 56 As human history goes, not so many years later Robert F. Kennedy would say: “Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change (Kennedy). ” On the eve of apartheid, debilitated by fear, South Africa’s people found themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of inequality and injustice.
I have a pin that reads: If you want peace, work for justice (Paul IV). Sadly, precious little understanding that might lead to peace talks was to be found on either side, and it seemed that the cycle of inequality and injustice would go on forever. Paton could not have known in 1946 when he wrote this book that all men would not be paralyzed by fear, but that courageous men by the name of Mandela, Tutu and others would be born, “People of the Land”, guardians of their earth, to courageously continue the fight for their beloved country.
One cannot examine a peoples’ struggles without examining their belief system, what the white men call religion. The two overriding themes of Cry the Beloved Country are the vicious cycle of inequality and injustice and the role Christianity plays in this injustice. Throughout history Christianity has been a source of comfort for the oppressed, as well as tool for resisting oppressive authority. Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu has played a major role on the worldwide stage in gaining social justice for South Africa’s people.
He first gained worldwide attention in 1976 during the Soweto Riots against the government’s use of Afrikaans as “a compulsory medium of instruction in black school (Miller). ” The Soweto protest movement became a massive uprising against apartheid. Many African people have always believed that religion is the only common meeting ground that can prevent a racial explosion of South Africa’s racial tensions. Religion has a dark side. As Arthur Jarvis observed, “The truth is that our Christian civilization is riddled through and through with dilemma. Cry the Beloved Country, page 187. The history of Christianity is riddled with corruption and instances of blatant social injustice. John Kumalo points out to his brother in Cry the Beloved Country that black priests are paid less than white priests. Paton writes how each day Stephen Kumalo and the other priests staying at the mission house in Johannesburg sit down to ample meals in a nice, clean, well-furnished home when just outside their door their people are living in squalor, forced to steal and prostitute themselves for a bite of food and a bit of shelter.
Just outside their door their people are desperately trying to numb their consciences and hold back their fear with liquor, drugs, and sex. Through his character, Arthur Jarvis, Alan Paton reveals a universal truth about all “religion” no less true today than it was in 1946 when he penned the words: We believe in the brotherhood of man, but we do not want it in South Africa. We believe that God endows men with diverse gifts, and that human life depends for its fullness on their employment and enjoyment, but we are afraid to explore his belief too deeply. We believe in help for the underdog, but we want him to stay under. And we are therefore compelled, in order to preserve our belief that we are Christian, to ascribe to Almighty God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, our own human intentions, and to say that because He created black and white, He gives the Divine Approval to any human action that is designed to keep black men from advancement. Cry the Beloved Country, page 187
I have always believed that all people are born with a “God” center—an instinct telling us what is good and what is right. Cry the Beloved Country has made such an impact since it was written because those reading it instinctively recognize that Paton’s words are true and right–words written for all of earth’s inhabitants no matter their “religion”. We can deny the truth of Arthur Jarvis’s words, but we cannot ignore them. They tell us the universal truth of human existence on this earth.
To quote Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act 2, scene 2 “Truth will out. ” The truth is that our civilization is not Christian (or Muslim or Hindu…); it is a tragic compound of great ideal and fearful practice, of high assurance and desperate anxiety, of loving charity and fearful clutching of possessions. Cry the Beloved Country, page 188 Bibliography Callan, Edward. Cry, the Beloved Country: A Novel of South Africa : [a Study]. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1991.
Giliomee Et. all. “The Dutch Settlement. ” The Dutch Settlement. Accessed March 13, 2013. http://www. sahistory. org. za/print/cape-town/dutch-settlement. Lampure, Kelly. “History of Johannesburg. ” Wikipedia. July 03, 2013. Accessed March 13, 2013. http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/History_of_Johannesburg. Miller, Lindsay. “DesmondTutu. ” Wikipedia. November 03, 2013. Accessed March 12, 2013. http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/DesmondTutu. Shakespear, William. Shakespeare Quotes. ” Enotes. com. 2013. Accessed March 13, 2013. http://www. enotes. com/shakespeare-quotes. Shillington, Kevin. “Timeline of Land Dispossession and Segregation in South Africa 1800-1899 | South African History Online. ” Timeline of Land Dispossession and Segregation in South Africa 1800-1899 | South African History Online. Accessed March 13, 2013. http://www. sahistory. org. za/topic/timeline-land-dispossession-and-segregation-south-africa-1800-1899.