Cry, the Beloved Country
How we cite our quotes:
Now there in Johannesburg were many of his own people. His brother John, who was a carpenter, had gone there, and had a business of his own in Sophiatown, Johannesburg. His sister Gertrude, twenty-five years younger than he, and the child of his parents' age, had gone there with her small son to look for the husband who had never come back from the mines. His only child Absalom had gone there, to look for his aunt Gertrude, and he had never returned. And indeed many other relatives were there, though none so near as these. (1.2.15)
Since Cry, the Beloved Country is a novel instead of a report on the effects of racist laws on black communities in South Africa, we start with a story instead of a stack of statistics. The lack of economic opportunity in Ndotsheni has torn Kumalo's family apart, as one by one, his brother, brother-in-law, sister, and son have all traveled to the city to find work or to bring the family back together. And none of them have come home. So Paton is using a highly personal story of a broken family to show the effects of economic and legal discrimination on black people in South Africa.
Msimangu said gravely, yes, [Gertrude] is very sick. But it is not that kind of sickness. It is another, a worse kind of sickness. I sent for you firstly because she is a woman that is alone, and secondly because her brother is a priest. I do not know if she ever found her husband, but she has no husband now.
He looked at Kumalo. It would be truer to say, he said, that she has many husbands. (1.5.15-6)
The proof of Gertrude's immorality is that she does not have a traditional family life. Not only has she not found her original husband, but she now has "many husbands." Msimangu's comparison between physical sickness and Gertrude's sexual behavior says something about the novel's fairly conservative views on the morality of sexuality in general. For more on sex and sexuality in Cry, the Beloved Country, check out our "Character Analysis" of Gertrude.
[Kumalo's] thoughts turned to the girl, and to the unborn babe that would be his grandchild. Pity that he a priest should have a grandchild born in such a fashion. Yet that could be repaired. If they were married, then he could try to rebuild what had been broken […] Yet where had they failed? What had they done, or left undone, that their child had become a thief, moving like a vagabond from place to place, living with a girl who was herself no more than a child, father of a child who would have no name? (1.13.10)
Kumalo clearly feels like this situation with Absalom is all his fault. He wonders what he could have done to keep Absalom from becoming a thief. But does the novel itself blame Kumalo for his failures as a father? Where does the novel place the responsibility for Absalom's crimes? What does Cry, the Beloved Country suggest about the place of the family in promoting social stability?