Cry, the Beloved Country
by Alan Paton
Cry, the Beloved Country Freedom and Confinement Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Book.Chapter.Paragraph)
— We had a son, [Kumalo] said harshly. Zulus have many children, but we had only one son. He went to Johannesburg, and as you said—when people go to Johannesburg, they do not come back. They do not even write any more. They do not go to St. Chad's to learn that knowledge without which no black man can live. They go to Johannesburg, and there they are lost, and no one hears of them at all. (1.2.63)
When Kumalo says "no one" hears of these people who moved to Johannesburg at all, he means no one in the countryside hears from them again. His phrasing is a little weird, since of course the people who move to the city probably hear about one another all the time. But that doesn't seem to count. Kumalo's way of talking about the city even at this early stage of the novel makes it sound like it is always and only destructive, like there is no such thing as a community within Johannesburg. Why might Paton exaggerate the separation between city and country? How does his representation of the city as a trap for young black people fit in with other themes of Cry, the Beloved Country such as race?
[Kumalo] is silent, his head aches, he is afraid. There is this railway station to come, this great place with all its tunnels under the ground. The train stops, under a great roof, and there are thousands of people. Steps go down into the earth, and here is the tunnel under the ground. Black people, white people, some going, some coming, so many that the tunnel is full. He goes carefully that he may not bump anybody, holding tightly on to his bag. He comes out into a great hall, and the stream goes up the steps, and here he is out in the street. (1.4.27)
Kumalo has been born and bred in South Africa. But now, he is in the city of Johannesburg—a South African city—and it's like he's on a different planet. He is so frightened of the hustle and bustle of the Johannesburg train station that he has trouble making himself go outside onto the street. Even though we don't know yet how bad things are going to get in Johannesburg for Kumalo, this early scene of his confusion and discomfort already sets up the city as a space of confinement, as opposed to the freedom of his home in Ndotsheni.
Go to our hospital, [John] said, and see our people lying on the floors. They lie so close you cannot step over them. But it is they who dig the gold. For three shillings a day. We come from the Tranksei, and from Basutoland, and from Bechuanaland, and from Swaziland, and from Zululand. And from Ndotsheni also. We live in the compounds, we must leave our wives and families behind. And when the new gold is found, it is not we who will get more from our labour. (1.7.44)
Whatever you may say about John Kumalo, he definitely makes some good points about the political problems of South Africa. He points out that the mines have had a specifically destructive effect on the black communities of South Africa. Men from all over leave their families behind to work, and they don't even get good pay for doing so. The mines literally trap black men away from their wives and children; symbolically, they represent the larger problem of "the broken tribe" that Msimangu and Arthur Jarvis both talk about. For more on "the tribe," check out our "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" section.