Cry, the Beloved Country
by Alan Paton
Okay, we're not saying that the people of Ndotsheni are perfect. But they are a lot better morally speaking than the villagers who go to Johannesburg. It's in Johannesburg that you find characters like John, Gertrude, or Absalom who murder, steal, sleep around, and sell illegal liquor. In Ndotsheni, the worst character flaw you find is stubbornness, as in the people who don't want to change their farming plans for Mr. Letsitsi. As soon as Kumalo comes back from Johannesburg to the Ndotsheni, he finds a dozen things to be thankful for. Location makes a huge difference to the moral and mental health of characters in Cry, the Beloved Country.
The job that you do becomes a big sign of the kind of person that you are in Cry, the Beloved Country. John Kumalo is a shopkeeper, but he is also a politician. And the fact that he works in politics suggests that his morals might not be all that great. Gertrude makes her living selling moonshine, which demonstrates that she has a really self-indulgent, greedy character. And in fact, Gertrude finds that she cannot stand the quiet, disciplined life of her brother Kumalo's household. By contrast to these two, Kumalo and Msimangu are both priests. Their religious faith keeps them humble and hopeful, which leads them to work honestly for social reform.
Speech and Dialogue
Many chapters of Cry, the Beloved Country contain long stretches of dialogue. By talking to Msimangu and even to James Jarvis in the later parts of the novel, we learn a lot of important information about Kumalo's values, opinions, worries, and feelings. Not only does this novel reveal a lot of detail through dialogue, but it is also through conversation that we hear the characters call each other umfundisi, umnumzana, or inkosi. These terms all imply essential things about each character's standing and status in the Zulu community. (For more on these terms, check out our "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" section.)