Cry, the Beloved Country
by Alan Paton
We find out about Arthur Jarvis's shooting long before we know for sure that his father James Jarvis owns the farm next to Ndotsheni or that it's Absalom who broke into Arthur's house and killed him. Since we never get to meet Arthur in person, the novel really focuses on how Arthur's ideas affect the people he left behind. In fact, in a way we get to know Arthur best of all of the characters, since we read about him in his own words, in his manuscripts on black African crime and in his notes on growing up in South Africa.
Here are three important things that we find out about Arthur Jarvis: first, he is well-respected as a white reformer in the black community. Among the many notes inviting him to lecture or to dine with various people, James Jarvis finds a letter from the chairman of the Claremont African Boys' Club, who asks Arthur if he wants to be President of the organization. The chair wonders, "How this Club would be arranged without your participation, would be a mystery to many minds among us" (2.20.7). The fact that this youth group for black kids would not be able to go on without Arthur shows how important he is, both as an organizer and as a supporter.
Second, Arthur truly loves South Africa, even though he knows that it is being split apart by violence and anger. In fact, Arthur draws a comparison between loving South Africa and loving a cheating woman: "It is only [when one learns that there are other things in South Africa than sun and gold and oranges] that one's love grows deep and passionate, as a man may love a woman who is true, false, cold, loving, cruel, and afraid" (2.24.3).
Arthur sees the ambiguities and problems in South Africa, and these difficulties have only made his love even more "deep and passionate." Again, we see proof of Paton's whole focus on universal love: the root of Arthur's desire to change and improve his country is his deep love for all of it, including its flaws.
Third, Arthur's study is basically an extension of his own mind. In addition to books of poetry, books on birds, and, yes, some Shakespeare, James Jarvis also finds a mixture of books in Afrikaans and English. This means that Arthur Jarvis is willing to learn from both of the major European-descended groups in South Africa, without the common English prejudice against Afrikaners. (For more on who the Afrikaners are, check out our "In a Nutshell" section.)
Arthur's bookshelf also contains information on a lot of important figures in South African history (for a full list, see our list of "Shout-outs"). These books indicate that Arthur has done his homework: he knows all about the white men who started the current South African government. He has also read up on race relations in South Africa. So when he writes his manuscripts suggesting new ways to improve conditions for black South Africans, he's not just making stuff up. He has studied up his history, and he's serious about what he writes.
Arthur's Taste in Art (And What It Tells Us About Him)
Arthur has four pictures on the wall of his study: "Christ crucified, and Abraham Lincoln, and Vergelegen, and the willows by the river" (2.20.5). Let's take a look at each of these pictures individually:
(1) This picture of Christ on the cross reminds us of Arthur's own religious belief. After all, we know that much of his criticism for South Africa's unequal race relations comes from his Christian faith: "No one wishes to make light of the fears that beset us. But whether we be fearful or no, we shall never, because we are a Christian people, be able to evade the moral issues" (2.20.17). In other words, it is because Arthur is a Christian that he feels so much moral pressure to address South Africa's racial divisions.
We also think that it's important that this is an image of Christ crucified. In other words, it's an image of Christ's sacrifice for humanity. This picture suggests an analogy between Christ's death and Arthur's. Of course, Absalom shoots Arthur by accident, without any intention of killing him. But Arthur's death does teach his father and even Kumalo a profoundly Christian message about love and forgiveness.
(2) The symbolism of the Abraham Lincoln picture on Arthur's wall is pretty obvious, right? Abraham Lincoln is a white man who is famous for signing the Emancipation Proclamation freeing American slaves forever. Clearly, Arthur is a liberal who looks up to Lincoln for making a difference in the lives of so many oppressed black people.
(3) Vergelegen is a 17th-century wine-making estate near the city of Cape Town. It's amazingly beautiful, with these famous old camphor trees planted in 1705 by the estate's original founder, Willem Adriaan van der Stel, still growing by the front doors. Like his biographies of famous South Africans, Arthur's picture of Vergelegen on the wall shows his appreciation for South Africa's history and traditions. He's not trying to reform the country out of a random desire to get rid of old things. At the same time that he argues for change in South Africa's ugly racial policies, Arthur wants to preserve the beautiful parts of South Africa, such as Vergelegen.
(4) Last but not least, we've got Arthur's picture of willows by a river. Remember how he grew up on a farm? No wonder he loves landscapes. Arthur's willows show that this character, like Cry, the Beloved Country as a whole, really likes nature. Since this book criticizes city life so strongly, we guess it's not surprising that one of this novel's moral leaders particularly likes looking at pictures of the South African countryside.