Cry, the Beloved Country
by Alan Paton
Cry, the Beloved Country Contrasting Regions: The Countryside and Johannesburg Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Book.Chapter.Paragraph)
Down in Ndotsheni I am nobody, even as you are nobody, my brother. I am subject to the chief, who is an ignorant man. I must salute him and bow to him, but he is an uneducated man. Here in Johannesburg I am a man of some importance, of some influence. I have my own business, and when it is good, I can make ten, twelve, pounds a week […] I do not say that we are free here. I do not say we are free as men should be. But at least I am free of the chief. (1.7.37-9)
Kumalo keeps seeing evidence that Johannesburg destroys traditional values and social relations. But from John's point of view, since he has figured out ways to make the system work for him, he thinks the freedom of Johannesburg is great. Back in Ndotsheni, he would be responsible to a chief and he would have no status. But in Johannesburg, he can make a name for himself. So John represents another point of view novel's criticism of city life: for John, the lack of structure and support is actually a positive good. Of course, Kumalo does not respect John because he is corrupt and selfish, so—that's the flip side of the city's freedom, that it really does represent opportunity, depending on what you are willing to do for it.
Msimangu explained that Alexandra was outside the boundaries of Johannesburg, and was a place where a black man could buy land and own a house. But the streets were not cared for, and there were no lights, and so great was the demand for accommodation that every man if he could, build rooms in his yard and sublet them to others. Many of these rooms were the hide-outs for thieves and robbers, and there was much prostitution and brewing of illicit liquor. (1.8.35)
The main difference we are tracking in our "Contrasting Regions" theme is between the village life of Ndotsheni and the city experience of Johannesburg. But of course, there are lots of contrasts within Johannesburg, as well. Msimangu points out that, yes, there are designated areas where black people are allowed to buy property in Johannesburg. But the city government doesn't take care of these areas, so they are run down, dangerous, and overcrowded. In effect, racist divisions in Johannesburg mean that there are two separate cities there, with very different characteristics.
Oh my husband, why did we leave the land of our people? There is not much there, but it is better than here. There is not much food there, but it is shared by all together. If all are poor, it is not so bad to be poor. And it is pleasant by the river, and while you wash your clothes the water runs over the stones, and the wind cools you. (1.9.73)
Obviously, the racism of South Africa makes the lives of the people in the Shanty Towns worse than they might be otherwise. But a lot of the criticisms that Paton offers of city life are urban problems rather than specifically racial problems. So, here, this woman regrets leaving the countryside because there is a stronger sense of community and the land is cleaner and healthier back home. And complaints about the lack of social structures or law and order in cities appear in novels of Prohibition-era Chicago or 19th-century Paris as much as they do in Cry, the Beloved Country about Johannesburg. Johannesburg is worse than these other places because it is a violently segregated city, but part of the issue is that Paton doesn't like the crowding and environmental issues that are just part of having cities in the first place.