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Themes

There are a lot of literal traps in this book: Absalom winds up in prison for murder, Gertrude and the other black African residents of Johannesburg are only allowed to live in certain parts of the city, and even Kumalo and the other Ndotsheni residents are stuck on land that is no longer productive or fertile. But Cry, the Beloved Country also spends a lot of time with more symbolic kinds of confinement. White men like Mr. Harrison and even Mr. Jarvis (before he starts reading his son's manuscripts) are trapped in hidebound, fearful ways of thinking about black South Africans. They may have all of the legal freedoms that the black people of the book do not have, but these white characters are still trapped by their prejudiced ways of thinking.

Questions About Freedom and Confinement

  1. Which characters in this book have the most freedom, and which remain the most confined? What factors seem to determine who is free and who is trapped in Cry, the Beloved Country?
  2.  How does Cry, the Beloved Country appear to imagine a more free future South Africa? What are the important injustices in South Africa that the novel wants to change?
  3. Does Absalom deserve to spend time in prison for what he has done? What does the novel seem to regard as a fair punishment for Absalom?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Although Absalom is only literally confined in prison after accidentally shooting Arthur Jarvis, he is also symbolically confined by his lack of education and opportunity before then, which drives him to become a thief.

While Paton writes movingly about the need for better racial equality in South Africa, the models of cross-racial cooperation that he presents, including Ezenzeleni and the reforms at Ndotsheni, all assume some management by white men.

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